Activists' calls for sanctuary ordinance go unanswered


The clash between immigration activists and Sheriff Robert Doyle that leaves the Board of Supervisors caught in the middle continued this week, as supervisors passed a resolution that urged the sheriff to reduce his cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The mostly symbolic act by supervisors was opposed by at least 40 callers, who spent over two hours demanding a binding sanctuary ordinance, not a resolution. Whereas a resolution establishes policies, an ordinance creates laws that come with infractions. Sheriff Doyle was adamant that the board could not tell him what to do beyond setting his budget, and county lawyers backed up his assertion.

“Whether it’s a resolution or an ordinance, it doesn’t bind ICE or me,” he said.

Although supervisors supported the idea of an ordinance, their lawyers said it would not be enforceable without the cooperation of the sheriff, who is an independent elected official.

The unanimously adopted resolution is short on specifics and much of its instructions are already in practice, like a directive for county departments to serve all residents regardless of immigration status. It urges the sheriff to minimize the extent that information he posts facilitates immigration enforcement. 

Currently, the booking log is easily found online, and a couple of clicks pulls up a full list of everyone in custody. Four of the nine Bay Area counties have moved to a searchable booking log rather than publishing a full list; that allows people to look up friends and family, but makes it harder for federal agents to track inmates. 

When an undocumented immigrant is taken into custody, ICE faxes the jail seeking to arrest the detainee. If the subject has been charged or convicted of a serious or violent crime as defined by state law, the sheriff calls the agents before releasing the inmate. 

Marin’s office exchanged 75 people in 2018, 27 in 2019, and five this year until July, when it stopped collecting arrest data after moving ICE arrests into the lobby following public pressure. The number of exchanges fell in recent years because the sheriff started notifying ICE of release dates case by case, based on criminal charges, rather than notifying ICE of everyone the agency was interested in. Four of the five people transferred this year had previous criminal convictions, and one had an open charge for domestic violence, Sheriff Doyle said.

Calls for a sanctuary ordinance that would prohibit the sheriff from cooperating with ICE have been ongoing since President Donald Trump took office and ramped up this summer after the death of George Floyd. Each year, the sheriff is required to describe his agency’s cooperation with ICE at a public forum required by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds—or TRUTH—Act. At the previous two forums, he heard sharp criticism and more urgings from the Board of Supervisors to reduce cooperation. The next forum is scheduled for Nov. 5.

At Tuesday’s board meeting, caller after caller asked supervisors to reject the resolution, describing it as window dressing that didn’t appease either side. “Who is this resolution for?” many asked, as it excited neither the sheriff nor immigrant advocates.

Activists were troubled by how the sheriff lumped those who were charged and convicted into the same category, saying that transferring innocent people violated due process. They pointed out that Marin is ranked first of 58 counties for its racial disparities by Race Counts, and that Latinos make up 16 percent of the population but 70 percent of Covid-19 cases.

Sheriff Doyle has maintained that the immigrants he exchanges with ICE are violent criminals, and he called for more discussion of their victims. He listed the crimes they are charged with—rape, criminal threats, assault with a deadly weapon and participation in a street gang—and affirmed that his office does not arrest people on the street for their immigration status.

He was flippant during the public comment period, speaking with someone off-screen, eating snacks and turning around in his chair, differing from the behavior of supervisors and county staff, who watched their screens or took notes. 

The calls reflect a wave of activism in Marin that picked up this summer, as residents inundated board meeting with calls for change related to policing people of color. The tone of comments has ranged from courteous to confrontational, with some going as far as labeling the sheriff a dictator and a terrorist and calling for his resignation. 

Most commenters this week took a softer approach, stating that the cooperation creates a collective fear in the immigrant community because of ICE’s human rights violations at detention centers. They pointed out that deporting one person affects entire families and allowing ICE in the jail scares immigrants away from all government services.

Sheriff Doyle pushed back on those arguments. “There needs to be some education of the immigrant community, particularly undocumented, that yeah, they have to fear ICE, because ICE can come into the county any time they like, but local law enforcement has absolutely no authority to arrest them for immigration violations,” he said.

Supervisor Dennis Rodoni was the most vocal board member calling for an ordinance, but his work on the subject left him resigned to the idea that Marin is not ready. He encouraged residents to place a referendum on the ballot to set the sheriff’s immigration policy, and he voiced a goal of zero transfers.

“I personally was unable to deliver an ordinance on this subject, and I’ll take ownership for that,” he said. 

But, he added, “I really do think that we’re being short-sighted to not see the benefit of this resolution, because while it does reaffirm a lot of things, it also sets some of the goal posts in discussions with the sheriff.”

The resolution is just one of several actions taken by supervisors and the sheriff in the wake of protests against systemic racism, and it won’t be the last. Supervisors approved half of the sheriff’s proposed budget increase in June; in response, the sheriff cut hours at the Point Reyes substation, so the coast is no longer patrolled for half of each day. He said he hopes to restore the staffing hours this fall after deputies graduate from the police academy, but he also said more cuts may be necessary due to growing budget shortfalls. 

Sheriff Doyle also banned the carotid restraint, a hold that restricts blood flow to the brain, and asked each supervisor to appoint a constituent to further review use-of-force policies.