How much is it worth to Sacramento County to stop being part of the Trump administration’s deportation machine?
That’s the question for county supervisors, who are to decide Tuesday whether to authorize the Sheriff’s Department to keep a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house as many as 165 detainees at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.
Terminating the deal (with 120 days notice) would cost the county as much as $6.6 million a year, but it’s a relatively small price to pay to be on the right side of one of the most important issues in America today.
Supervisors can find the money elsewhere in the $1.7 billion general fund budget they are now considering. They last voted for the contract in 2013, to expire June 30. If they allow it to continue, they should at the very least attach an expiration date so it can be reviewed again. It makes no sense to extend the contract indefinitely, as the sheriff’s department wants.
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We can’t trust Sheriff Scott Jones on this issue – not when he has sensationalized the public safety threat posed by undocumented immigrants. Also, supervisors can’t ignore a possible change in leadership. Milo Fitch, who is trying to oust Jones in the Tuesday election, says he would end the ICE contract.
Certainly undocumented immigrants who are dangerous felons should be arrested and deported. The issue is whether the dragnet is too wide. In a memo to supervisors last week, Jones said of the 98 ICE detainees at Rio Cosumnes on one recent day, nine had been convicted of homicide or manslaughter, eight of sex offenses and 12 of domestic violence. But another 25 just had records for drug offenses or DUI, and three had no prior criminal convictions.
The biggest category was 41 convicted of assault with a deadly weapon, burglary or robbery, but no further breakdown was available of how many were violent felonies. According to ICE, about 85 percent of detainees have felony convictions, the sheriff’s department says. The department wasn’t able to say whether these numbers, from May 10, are average.
In the memo, Jones said that ICE detainees have equal or better access to services and privileges than other jail inmates. The average stay is 148 days, he told supervisors.
Activists who are urging supervisors to end the contract have reason, however, to be concerned about the conditions for detainees. An inspection by an ICE office in January 2015 found the jail in compliance on only one of 16 standards, with 49 “deficiencies” including food, health, safety and access to legal documents. Those flaws have been corrected, the department says. A detainee held there in 2016 is suing the county and U.S. government, alleging that jailers ignored his requests for medical care. He jumped off a second-floor balcony trying to kill himself, the lawsuit claims, and is now paralyzed.
The most compelling argument the sheriff makes is that ending the contract would make it much more difficult for family and friends to visit detainees. About half are from the Sacramento region and 90 percent from Northern California, Jones says, and they would be moved out of state, likely to Texas. The hardship for families of detainees, however, is outweighed by the benefits to the broader immigrant community of the county taking this stand.
While the contract allows as many as 165 ICE detainees, the average has been less than 100 (Monday, it was 85). At the daily rate of $100 per detainee, that totals about $4 million in 2017-18.
If the contract is renewed, the sheriff’s department plans to seek to raise the daily rate to $115, increasing revenue to a projected $6.6 million a year. The sheriff warns that without the contract, the county would have to make up the revenue outside his department’s budget, taking “much-needed resources from other valuable…programs and services.”
But with the legitimate distrust of federal immigration enforcement under Trump, a long-term marriage with ICE is an even bigger risk.