Sacramento County is out of the odious business of warehousing undocumented immigrants for profit.
By a 3-2 vote on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted not to renew a five-year-old contract that the county had with the U.S Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants in county facilities while they awaited deportation proceedings.
Supervisors Patrick Kennedy, Phil Serna and Don Nottoli cast the deciding votes and deserve credit for rejecting the recommendation of their staff members and for pushing back on Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones. His department was to make $6.6 million in fed money to act as a kind of landlord to immigrants rounded up by ICE agents.
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He's right. These immigrants are normally not held for criminal violations. They are held for "administrative" procedures. The idea was to keep these prisoners locked up until such time that their cases were heard in immigration courts that are hopelessly backlogged.
That Sacramento had a deal with ICE at all was against the spirit of state law, which draws a clear line between what the feds do to enforce federal immigration laws, and what local law enforcement officials do to enforce state and local laws.
There are good reasons to keep the two mandates separate. In states such as Pennsylvania, local police and sheriffs act as virtual immigration cops in league with the feds. This has resulted in racial profiling of Latinos, whether they are undocumented or legal. It has resulted in massive incarceration of immigrants in detention facilities shrouded in secrecy and a lack of transparency.
On Monday, U.S Senator Jeff Merkley was barred from entering a detention facility housing immigrant children in Texas.
Some might have doubted that we had shadowy incarceration practices here in Sacramento, but we did.
Since 2013, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department had profited from a lucrative business arrangement with the feds. County sheriffs received undocumented people detained by federal immigration authorities and housed them at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) paid Jones' department that $6.6 million a year to provide a maximum of 165 beds for ICE detainees.
Conditions at Rio Cosumnes have been found to be substandard and one detainee was permanently paralyzed during a suicide attempt.
If the feds want to detain people for federal procedures, then let them do it at federal detention centers. Having county sheriffs hold immigrants until their cases are decided blurred the line between federal mandates and local ones. Current state law prohibits local governments from creating new contracts with federal authorities to detain non-citizens at a locked facility. But deals such as the agreement between the feds and Sacramento are allowed, provided that renewals of such deals do not expand the number of beds the county can provide to house federal detainees.
Detainees will now likely be transferred to Texas. That's a shame and a hardship for families affected by current federal immigration practices, but Sacramento County can do little to remedy a broken immigration system made even less humane by a presidential administration that has no problem with separating immigration children from their families – or deporting productive breadwinners with no criminal backgrounds.
Deportations were often cruel under President Barack Obama as well. But President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant policies and rhetoric have caused more damage to immigrant communities through the widespread arrests of otherwise law-abiding people.
No one would dispute that drug dealers, felons, rapists and murderers should be deported and treated harshly in the process. The problem with the Rio Cosumnes deal – and with immigration enforcement under Trump – is that otherwise productive families are separated and otherwise productive people are being swept up in immigration dragnets.
Civil liberties are endangered when local cops begin doing the work of federal immigration authorities. If the current Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones were more trustworthy on these issues, maybe the Rio Cosumnes contract would have been less of an issue.
But Jones is not trustworthy. He has used his position to politicize the immigration issue. He has supported Trump. He isn't just the sheriff anymore. He's the conservative Republican sheriff. So why would supervisors in a mostly progressive county allow such a sheriff to maintain a $6 million deal with ICE?
He didn't earn that trust and on Tuesday, the supervisors essentially made him pay for his showboating on immigration and his support of Trump.
Supervisors may still move to plug the new hole in Jones' budget. But really? He's earned a $6.6-million budget cut as a reminder that his political views do not fly in this county.