Sheriff could better protect immigrants

03/22/2017

In his recent opinion piece, Sheriff Robert Doyle sought to assure constituents that his office will neither initiate contact with anyone solely for immigration purposes nor target undocumented crime victims or witnesses. He emphasized that his policy “specifically forbids participation” in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, a claim many community members read with misplaced relief. 

The protocols Doyle described afford immigrants the basic rights required by two state laws, the 2013 Trust Act and the 2016 TRUTH Act—nothing more. Doyle merely affirmed his office’s adherence to its own legal mandate and California laws. He has also proven himself no friend of immigrants. As a member of the California State Sheriff’s Association, he lobbied against passage of the Trust Act and, in his capacity as chair of the association’s legislative committee, currently opposes S.B. 54, which would further limit local law enforcement cooperation with ICE.

The Sheriff’s Office’s purview—criminal law enforcement—does not include determining a person’s federal immigration status, a civil matter. As a rule, local law enforcement officers do not initiate contact based solely on suspected immigration status. Only 37 counties in the United States have volunteered to be deputized to do so by the Department of Homeland Security. That Marin is not one of them is only minimally laudable.

In his column, Doyle stressed that his office does not discriminate by immigration status in its treatment of arrestees, crime victims or witnesses. Again, this policy simply hews to California law, which guarantees such equal treatment. Notably missing from his comments are the many ways in which his office’s policies actually provide for more cooperation with ICE in civil immigration matters than is required by federal and state law.

He did not reveal, for instance, that his office grants patrol deputies the authority to notify ICE at the time of an arrest if they have “cause to believe” that the arrestee “may not be a U.S. citizen.” Such notification exceeds any federal or state requirement, and the specified standard for evidence is so vague as to be a veritable recipe for illegal racial profiling.

Once arrestees are booked into Marin County Jail, the Sheriff’s Office continues to go out of its way to assist ICE, while providing immigrants only baseline legal protections. A case in point: as Doyle writes, the jail allows immigration officers access to interview inmates, even without legal representation. Neither federal nor state law requires such access. While his policy requires inmates to be notified about their right to refuse to talk to ICE agents, it does not afford them the opportunity to consult with an attorney before agreeing to an interview. In fact, many inmates report that they do not even receive the written notice required by the TRUTH Act.

Further exceeding federal and state requirements, the jail provides space for ICE to maintain a regularly staffed desk inside the booking room and takes no protective measures to avoid ICE agents intercepting former inmates upon
release. 

Doyle described the limited circumstances under which the Trust Act permits local agencies to honor “hold” requests, in which local jails detain undocumented inmates beyond normal release dates for transfer to ICE custody. He did not, however, explain that no law compels cooperation with these requests. In fact, the Trust Act reserves local officials full discretion to further limit compliance within their jurisdiction. The sheriff’s order implementing the Trust Act in Marin declines the opportunity to exercise any such discretion, instead maximizing the allowable scope of compliance, even in certain cases involving inmates with only misdemeanor convictions.

The order even allows for holds authorized only by an administrative, rather than a judicial, finding of probable cause to justify detention. This practice runs contrary to the Trust Act’s dictates, as well as a 2014 federal court decision from Oregon that interpreted the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution to require an independent judicial magistrate to establish probable cause, apart from any ICE finding.  

Finally, Doyle’s claim that his policy “specifically forbids participation” in immigration raids is distinctly misleading. The policy only covers sweeps “intended solely to locate and detain undocumented immigrants.” This wording allows the Sheriff’s Office to collaborate in ICE enforcement actions so long as they nominally serve some additional purpose. 

Doyle further declined to mention that his policy affirmatively allows personnel to “provide support services, including traffic control, during an ICE operation.” As illustrated by the recent public conflict between the Santa Cruz police chief and the Department of Homeland Security, local agencies do not always provide such assistance.

In summary, Doyle’s opinion piece purports to ease the “significant fear and anxiety” of Marin’s immigrant communities. His office’s policies, however, belie these aims. Our group, United Marin Rising, urges him to reform these policies to justify the “trust and confidence” he desires from his constituents. If Doyle is not willing to respond to his constituents’ substantial concerns, United Marin Rising calls on the Marin County Board of Supervisors to exercise its legitimate oversight of the Sheriff’s Office.

 

Stephen Bingham, a San Rafael resident, is a retired attorney and a member of the National Lawyers Guild for over 50 years. Jessica Hollinger, of Tam Valley, is a graduate of the University of California Berkeley School of Law. Both are members of United Marin Rising, a grassroots organization of Marin residents and groups focused on social, environmental and economic issues facing Marin.