Marcos Bretón

Why the county should stop profiting off the pain of broken immigration policies

A call to end the sheriff's ICE contract in Sacramento

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department has a contract with U.S. Customs and Immigration to house immigration detainees in its Rio Consumnes Correctional Facility near Elk Grove. Tuesday evening, activists called for terminating the ICE contrac
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The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department has a contract with U.S. Customs and Immigration to house immigration detainees in its Rio Consumnes Correctional Facility near Elk Grove. Tuesday evening, activists called for terminating the ICE contrac

Sacramento County should not be in business with federal immigration authorities to house undocumented immigrants in county detention facilities. Such an arrangement goes 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 a 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 believe we don't have shadowy incarceration practices here in Sacramento, but we do.

For the last five years, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department has profited from a lucrative business arrangement with the feds. County sheriffs receive undocumented people detained by federal immigration authorities and house them at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove. The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) pays Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones' department $6.6 million a year to provide a maximum of 165 beds for ICE detainees.


These immigrants are not charged with criminal violations. They are "administrative" detainees who are warehoused by Sacramento County to assure their presence before federal immigration courts deciding whether they should be deported.

Local activists have been angry about this arrangement and, as it happens, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will decide Tuesday whether to renew the deal or not. It expires at the end of the month.

The answer to that question is simple: Supervisors should terminate this deal.

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 blurs 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 five-year-old 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.

If the supervisors vote to terminate the deal at Rio Cosumnes – and there are strong signs that they will – then the detainees will 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.

Deportation 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 deal Rio Cosumnes – 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 be 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?

It's a pretty good bet that County Supervisors Phil Serna and Patrick Kennedy will vote "no" to renew Jones' deal. And the swing vote – Supervisor Don Nottoli – seems to be leaning toward a "no" vote as well. When asked about whether terminating a $6 million deal would be harmful to the county, Nottoli was unconvinced.

"That argument is not compelling at all," he said Monday. "We could adjust."

This odious deal should end now.

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