Stockton says it won’t change immigration enforcement policy, even under Trump scrutiny


Stockton officials said the city will not change its policies toward undocumented immigrants following U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement Thursday morning that cities will not receive resources from a federal public safety program unless they cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

But city officials also said the city doesn’t anticipate losing any federal assistance.

Stockton police Chief Eric Jones said he believes his department meets the standards set out by Sessions to participate in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Partnership. Jones also suggested the Police Department would not have changed its policies even if called on to do so as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.

“We have two pillars for our strategic plan: smarter policing and principled policing,” Jones said. “The principled policing pillar is about treating everyone fairly and equitably, and we have to balance that always, so we would want to make sure everything’s consistent with that.”

Stockton’s mayor, Michael Tubbs, weighed in on Twitter to “reassure” Stockton residents no funding was at risk.

“Public safety continues to be our top priority as well as building trust with the many diverse communities that call Stockton home,” his statement read.

Stockton is among four cities grappling with high crime rates that received letters Thursday from the Justice Department stating they were under consideration for the public safety program while asking about their cooperation with immigration enforcement. The letter, which also went to San Bernardino, Albuquerque, N.M., and Baltimore, said the department was “reviewing your jurisdiction’s commitment to reducing violent crime stemming from illegal immigration.”

Cities that want to participate in the program, which launched in June, must allow federal immigration authorities into their facilities to question people suspected of being in the country illegally. They also must notify immigration enforcement at least 48 hours in advance before an undocumented immigrant is released from detention centers and help federal authorities take custody of undocumented immigrants by holding inmates an extra two days if requested.

“The Department of Justice is committed to supporting our law enforcement at every level, and that’s why we’re asking ‘sanctuary’ jurisdictions to stop making their jobs harder,” Sessions said in a statement. “By taking simple, common-sense considerations into account, we are encouraging every jurisdiction in this country to cooperate with federal law enforcement.”

Stockton has not proclaimed itself a sanctuary city, police spokesman Joe Silva said. But the city’s police officers do not stop, question or detain people solely on the basis of legal status, he and Jones said. The Justice Department’s letter did not ask police to do such enforcement.

Jones said the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, not Stockton police, oversees the city’s detention facilities. Police only manage a temporary holding cell for arrestees who are being fingerprinted and photographed, he said, meaning that the Justice Department’s requirements for 48-hour notice and 48-hour extended custody would not apply to city authorities.

Jones said the department already gives immigration enforcement access to what facilities it has.

“The answers back to the U.S. Department of Justice should be quite easy,” he said.

“I just think it’s unfortunate when a topic like violent crime gets politicized,” Jones said. “We hope to get the technical assistance, as long as everything that the program can offer is consistent with our philosophy.”

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Jones said his department expects mostly technical assistance — help with data analysis on where crime occurs, who is committing it — rather than funding from the federal program, although he did not know exactly how much money Stockton stands to receive through the program. The Justice Department did not respond to a query about the type of support cities can expect from its program.

“We never really got that far,” Jones said about its application. He said his department initially expressed interest over a year ago in a pilot program called the Violence Reduction Network that the Public Safety Partnership has built upon.

Jones said he was not even aware of the Justice Department’s letter to Stockton on the program until media outlets starting contacting him about it early in the morning.

Hannah Knowles: 916-321-1141, @KnowlesHannah