Activists boycott sheriff forum on ICE

12/09/2020

At an annual forum held last week for Sheriff Robert Doyle to describe his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Canal Alliance representative Lucia Martel-Dow shared a distressing scene, recorded on video by a community member. 

The night before the forum, a 19-year-old undocumented man was released from the Marin County Jail. His family waited in the parking lot for him, but so did an unmarked van carrying plain clothes officers ready to pick him up. The officers, presumably ICE agents, arrested the man as his family watched and his young sister cried. 

With Sheriff Doyle unable to explain who the man was, what crime he committed or how ICE knew he was being released, the video served as an emotional flashpoint for the debate over his cooperation with ICE. Both Ms. Martel-Dow and Sheriff Doyle agreed the video was ugly, but they had diverging takes on how the incident could have been avoided. 

Sheriff Doyle said the video reflected his new policy that bars ICE from arresting inmates in the booking area of the jail, moving arrests to public areas. It’s a change he adopted on Aug. 15 as a concession to immigration advocates who wanted to make arrests more difficult and less secretive, with the goal of eliminating ICE’s presence altogether.

For Ms. Martel-Dow, the director of immigration and social services for the nonprofit Canal Alliance, the video reflects how Marin victimizes its undocumented immigrants, who represent an estimated 6 percent of the county’s residents. She said ICE violates human rights, acts with impunity and has become a tool of institutional racism and authoritarianism. 

“Is this what we want to see in Marin?” she asked. “Victims are more than just the victims of the crime. It’s the 5-year-old you saw in this video, that last night was crying when she was separated from her [brother].”

Sheriff Doyle defended his actions, as he has done at previous forums mandated annually by the 2018 Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds, or TRUTH Act. The inmates he offers to ICE are violent criminals, he said, listing their charges: rape, domestic violence, criminal threats and street gang activity. “We are talking about very serious crimes,” he said. His deputies do not enforce immigration law outside of the jail, he said, and law-abiding immigrants have nothing to fear from local law enforcement.

This year’s TRUTH Act forum saw far less public participation than in past years: Latinos Unidos de Marin, a group of about 40 Canal residents, and ICE Out of Marin boycotted it. 

“The sheriff continues to cooperate with ICE and the supervisors continue to hear community stories and offer limp responses,” wrote Lisa Bennett, co-chair of ICE Out of Marin, in a letter sent to the board in lieu of attending the forum. 

The groups said the event lacked community input and was held merely to check a box. They are frustrated by a lack of action from supervisors despite hours of public comments at previous meetings. Recently, members called for supervisors to pass a binding sanctuary ordinance that banned the sheriff from cooperating with ICE; instead, supervisors followed legal advice and passed a nonbinding resolution urging the sheriff to end the practice and affirming their support for immigrants.

The sheriff said he would not follow an ordinance or resolution, anyway. “It’s not my job to make it difficult for ICE to find people who are undocumented,” he said.

Though the board has largely disagreed with the sheriff, county counsel Brian Washington said it has little power to set the policies of an independently elected official.

Cooperation between the jail and ICE occurs when ICE requests that sheriff’s deputies notify agents when an undocumented inmate is being released. The jail complies with the notification request only in cases in which an inmate has been charged with or convicted of a serious or violent crime. 

This year, ICE requested notification 51 times, and the jail responded nine times. Those nine inmates had been arrested 40 times previously, Sheriff Doyle said, though in three cases, the inmate was pre-trial for domestic violence. Beyond the nine recorded arrests, ICE may have made additional arrests by tracking the public booking log or the fingerprint database, but the sheriff is unaware of those arrests, since they no longer take place inside the jail. 

When he was asked about making the public booking log searchable rather than offering every name, Sheriff Doyle said ICE already knows who is in jail by their fingerprints.

Ms. Martel-Dow had three recommendations for the sheriff: publicly release his new policy moving the location of ICE arrests, which only has been circulated internally; document all interactions between deputies and ICE agents, including informal phone calls and in-person visits; and modify the online booking log so that all names can’t be pulled up at once, thus adding another step for ICE to locate someone. Sheriff Doyle said his office would review the recommendations.

Ms. Martel-Dow also asked Mr. Washington to explore options to bring oversight of the sheriff, and she requested the board hold another forum about issues impacting the immigrant community that don’t concern law enforcement.