The Marin County Sheriff’s Office faced criticism from county officials and the public over its continued collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at last week’s annual TRUTH Act forum. 

Though the number of immigrants transferred to ICE from the county jail has declined in recent years, new federal guidelines could reverse that trend, and Sheriff Robert Doyle remains under pressure from local activists who joined a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union last month. Others at the forum voiced support for the VISION Act, a state assembly bill that could end all transfers, and county supervisors and activists alike called on the sheriff to stop notifying ICE of the release of undocumented immigrants who have not yet been convicted of a serious crime. 

“I don’t feel comfortable with turning someone over to ICE who’s not been convicted and has open charges, because I think due process is important, and it’s important to everyone,” Supervisor Dennis Rodoni said. “They’re only guilty of being an illegal immigrant at that point.”

Several members of the public echoed his concerns. “Why do we provide double punishment?” asked Johnson Reynolds, who was representing the First United Methodist Church of San Rafael. “Do we not have a criminal justice system that can deal with these crimes?”

The Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds Act, signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, is intended to create more transparency around collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement. ICE sends detainer notices to local agencies asking them to hold immigrants after their release from jail until the agency can detain and potentially deport them. An ICE detainer can apply to DACA recipients and lawful permanent residents as well as to undocumented immigrants, according to Marin County Deputy Public Defender Rachael Keast.

The Sheriff’s Office disregards the hold in accordance with the 2017 California Values Act, but it does notify ICE when it releases inmates charged with one of a long list of crimes deemed serious or violent. 

Sheriff Doyle, who will leave his post next year after more than 25 years, clashed with supervisors on the issue. 

“I know what you’re getting at, but my position is that I report people who have open charges for serious or violent crimes to ICE,” he told Supervisor Damon Connolly. He said undocumented residents charged with violent crimes pose a “public safety issue” even if they have not been convicted, and he said reporting them to ICE “prevents further victimization.” 

The sheriff reacted to public comments arguing that deportations separate families unnecessarily. “The speakers focus on the rights of the people that are undocumented but they don’t mention anything about the people who’ve been victimized, and often times the victims of these crimes are family members,” he said. “So this whole idea of ‘this is breaking up the family unit,’ I think, is overstated a little bit.” 

Last summer, under pressure from activists, the Sheriff’s Office moved ICE transfers from the private booking area of the jail to the public lobby. Last year, ICE sent 95 detainer requests to the sheriff, who responded to 15 of them. Those notifications led to nine ICE arrests at the jail; the other six individuals may have been arrested elsewhere, according to Sheriff Doyle’s report at the forum.

Those numbers represent a decline. In 2019, ICE arrested 27 people at the county jail; the previous year, the agency arrested 75. But Ms. Keast said last year’s numbers were the product of fewer ICE requests rather than a change in the sheriff’s policy. New guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security, which go into effect on Nov. 29, make enforcement more discretionary for ICE officers and could result in more detainers. 

“I wanted to make the board aware that whatever numbers we’re seeing now are subject to the whims of the federal government,” Ms. Keast said. 

Despite the reduction in ICE transfers, local immigration activists remain frustrated by ongoing collaboration between the agencies. San Rafael-based activist Cesar Lagleva said some feel resigned to the idea that the forum will not lead to greater accountability. 

“There’s a certain amount of discouragement about what they are being asked to do, to lobby or to advocate, only to be shut down and not to be heard,” Mr. Lagleva said.

That sentiment may have led to a relatively lower turnout last week, though last year, ICE Out of Marin sat out the forum along with the group Latinos Unidos de Marin. Lisa Bennett, who co-chairs ICE Out of Marin, represented the group at last week’s forum. She called on supervisors to pass a resolution in support of the VISION Act, which would bar any transfer of prisoners eligible for release from California’s jails to ICE. She joined a chorus of public commenters in support of the act, which the California State Assembly will consider next session. 

“What the VISION Act ends is the double punishment of undocumented people,” Ms. Bennett said. “[It] would say that when someone exits our prisons or jails, that they’re allowed to re-enter the community just like anyone else.”

Activists also pushed supervisors to form a civilian oversight board for the sheriff, which they are now empowered to do under last year’s Assembly Bill 1185. Earlier this year, a group of Inverness residents spurred an initial forum with the county’s Human Rights Commission, at which Sheriff Doyle was the lone voice opposing an oversight board. 

Oversight boards, which have subpoena power and can hear and investigate complaints against the sheriff, already  have been established in Sonoma, Santa Clara and Los Angeles counties. Supervisors Connolly and Katie Rice will propose a plan for an oversight board in January. 

Both Ms. Bennett and Mr. Lagleva are plaintiffs in the pending lawsuit filed by the A.C.L.U. against the sheriff’s office. The suit accuses the agency of sharing data captured by automatic license plate readers with out-of-state law enforcement agencies, including ICE, in violation of California law. The license plate data enters a private database, where it is accessible by hundreds of agencies, A.C.L.U. lawyers said. 

In a statement responding to the lawsuit, the Sheriff’s Office said it had made changes to its sharing policy after being censured by the state auditor last year. Last week, county counsel Brian Washington addressed the suit, saying the county no longer shares license plate data with any out-of-state or federal agencies. “They no longer have any access to that data, and it’s never been used for immigration enforcement purposes,” Mr. Washington said. “We believe that lawsuit is moot.”

Activists are also involved in efforts to find an opponent for Undersheriff Jamie Scardina, who is running unopposed to fill Sheriff Doyle’s seat after Novato city manager Adam McGill withdrew from the race this fall. Undersheriff Scardina would likely continue the same ICE policies and resist oversight, they say. 

For his part, Supervisor Rodoni is hopeful that an administrative change could open the door to policy change. “I suspect that the potential new sheriff is listening to all of this, and I think he’s going to come in and make his own decisions,” he said.