Public presses sheriff over ICE transfers

07/10/2019

In a room full of immigrant advocates, Marin County Sheriff Bob Doyle on Tuesday recited the reason for his office’s arrest of the 13 immigrants it has exchanged with ICE this year. They had committed serious or violent crimes, he said, so he was complying with the California Values Act, which restricts local law enforcement's cooperation with ICE but still allows it when certain crimes are charged.

But the roughly 40 advocates and Marin residents who spoke at the forum grilled him for cooperating with ICE at all. 

“All of us in this room are completely horrified by the conditions on the border,” said Laura Eberly, highlighting the overcrowded, unsanitary detention centers where migrant children are kept. “Our jail is participating in this process, and so are we if we do nothing about it.” 

Ms. Eberly called on county supervisors to end deportation from Marin and establish a community oversight board to review the sheriff’s office. “History will not judge us kindly when we say, ‘We didn’t do it, we simply handed the most vulnerable members of our community over to the people who did.’”

The July 9 forum was the second held under the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds—or TRUTH—Act, which requires that officials hold a community forum if local law enforcement provides ICE with access to individuals.

The first forum, in December, was held two weeks after Sheriff Doyle announced a change in policy: he would no longer proactively give inmates' release dates to ICE unless the inmate had been charged with a serious or violent crime. The sheriff was heavily criticized at the December meeting for posting inmate release dates online—a practice it maintains.

But a few speakers at this week’s forum were reluctant to criticize him amid a reduction in inmate exchanges in 2019, on pace to be about one-third of 2018’s total of 72. 

The change in policy and reduction in exchanges to ICE was celebrated by Lucia Martel-Dow, the director of immigration and social services for Canal Alliance, a nonprofit that supports immigrants. “What we have done in the past seven months is absolutely outstanding,” she said, thanking the sheriff for the progress despite their philosophical differences.

To kick off the forum, Sheriff Doyle listed the crimes of the 13 people he had exchanged with ICE this year. He told county supervisors of their previous arrests and the nature of the arrest that led to their exchange. He did not make clear when their arrests occurred or whether they resulted in convictions. 

Before the policy change at the end of last year, the Marin County Jail notified ICE of everyone the agency was interested in. Now, the jail decides case by case.

Yet Jose Varela, the public defender for Marin County, outlined the problems with this practice. A person can be given to ICE even if his or her case was dismissed or reduced to a lower crime; and, in many instances, people are charged for crimes they did not commit. By turning over inmates without convictions, the sheriff’s office was ignoring due process, he said. 

Mr. Varela also took time to communicate the plight of refugees escaping neighborhoods infested with crime. He has witnessed immigrants in his office who “look as though they need to be medicated because they are in so much fear.”

During the public comment period, a long line formed, including children as young as first graders who had prepared to speak. 

“If I was deported, my children would be alone and sad. I’m very, very worried,” a mother of three tearfully said through a translator. 

Deportations and gender-based violence are overlapping issues, said Nishtha Jolly, the legal services manager at YWCA Silicon Valley, whose mission is to end racism and empower women. “Any indication that the county is working with ICE would make the women who have less-than-perfect immigration status sitting ducks for predators,” she said. 

Immigrants are scared to report crimes, she said—even though they are more likely to be victims. “The way to [increase public safety] is not by targeting immigrants, a population that itself is often victimized, but by pressing the issue of gender-based violence,” Ms. Jolly said.

Multiple members of the public called for the passage of A.B. 1185, which would authorize counties to establish a sheriff oversight board. “Our sheriff has a great deal of discretion in what he does, and not enough accountability,” one speaker said.

After the public comments, Sheriff Doyle questioned why the room hadn’t heard about the victims of the inmates he had turned over to ICE. A few crowd members who objected were quieted down by the board chair. The sheriff emphasized that all but one of the 13 turned over had been convicted of a serious crime at some point.

When supervisors gave their thoughts in closing, Supervisor Katie Rice said it is up to the sheriff to decide on his policy, while Supervisor Judy Arnold said the angst and anger in the room was the result of how the federal government is handling immigrants. “Asylum is desperately needed in our nation, and it is not being provided,” she said.

About the decrease in inmate exchanges, Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said, “We need to celebrate our successes,” even though he morally disagrees with the sheriff releasing anyone to ICE. “I’d be more than happy for them to stay in our jail,” he added. 

At the next forum on the TRUTH Act, Mr. Rodoni said he wants the sheriff to report where the inmates the county exchanges with ICE end up.