Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones repeatedly perpetuates a narrative that he sympathizes with the “good immigrants,” not “criminal immigrants.” But his justification for allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement to have a presence in our jails is based on fallacious logic.
He recently insisted that only felons should be worried, but he seems not to realize that ICE can target people booked into county jails even if charges are later dismissed.
Jones has consistently said his department does not enforce immigration laws. Local law enforcement is responsible for enforcing California’s criminal laws, and is neither paid nor trained to enforce federal immigration laws. Conversely, ICE is tasked with enforcing federal immigration law, not criminal law.
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Jones has contracted with ICE to hold people in Sacramento County jails who are awaiting immigration proceedings. These detainees can be any noncitizen, including those without criminal history. But Jones goes one step further by allowing ICE free access to the jail.
As an immigration attorney, I work with ICE detainees regularly. Most people detained in these facilities are not the dangerous criminals Jones purports to protect us from. The “bad immigrant” narrative is stretched to absurd limits to justify ICE activity in our jails.
Last fall, a Bay Area police officer stopped one of my clients for a traffic infraction. When the officer discovered he was undocumented, the officer contacted ICE. The man was arrested by ICE and brought to Sacramento County, which had available bed space due to Jones’ contract with ICE. My client was not detained for being a “dangerous criminal,” but rather because he did not appear to have immigration status.
While in the sheriff’s custody, he sustained severe injuries that permanently paralyzed him. He now requires two full-time staff to help him function. He has a U.S. citizen daughter who will never be able to go on walks with her father.
Does this make us safer?
Perhaps the most evident overreach by ICE that I’ve seen is the case of a farmworker who was almost deported before discovering he was a U.S. citizen. Born abroad, his parents brought him to the U.S. as a child. Given the complexities of immigration and nationality law, he had no idea he was a U.S. citizen at birth.
After a grueling year of immigration hearings and document gathering in Northern California, the immigration judge found that the court had no jurisdiction over him as a citizen. Not only did local law enforcement enable ICE to improperly detain and attempt deportation against this man, but ICE failed to meet its burden of confirming that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen before trying to deport him.
The same way Jones’ deputies need probable cause to contact residents out on the street, ICE needs probable cause to contact someone suspected to be a noncitizen. ICE can easily circumvent this constitutional safeguard when they freely roam our jails.
In another case, a client reported ICE participated in booking him into criminal – not immigration – custody. How would ICE justify being present at this point? Although criminal charges were never filed, ICE detained him anyway, preventing him from supporting his U.S. citizen wife and 2-year-old daughter. An immigration judge later found no threat to public safety and ordered his release.
The truth is, ICE simply lacks the staff to deport more people, and relies on Jones’ contract to insert themselves into spaces where they don’t belong. Jones misses the mark when he says he wants to keep us safe, but promotes ICE’s predatory practices. ICE continues to harm our residents without consequence.
We need a leader who demands ICE get out of our jails.
Kristina McKibben is a Sacramento immigration attorney. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.