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Close to Home: Sheriff can dig in heels more

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas recently signaled a significant policy shift that limits compliance with requests from the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency asking his office to hold suspected unlawfully present undocumented noncitizens in county custody until federal authorities can interrogate or take custody of them.

Although he initially argued that resisting ICE requests would violate federal law, his recent policy shift is legally sound, aligns with the state TRUST Act and could, in fact, go further in asserting independence from ICE — if the lessons of other California jurisdictions are any guide.

Currently, two states, California and Connecticut, as well as at least 14 jurisdictions nationwide — including the cities of San Francisco and Berkeley and Santa Clara, San Bernardino and Alameda counties — maintain non-cooperation policies that limit compliance with federal hold requests. The reasons are varied, including the high costs of detention, the desire to focus on more pressing public safety priorities and the risk to law enforcement's relationship with immigrant communities.

For guidance as he decides whether to make his interim policy permanent, Freitas and Sonoma County may wish to consult the Santa Clara County civil detainer policy, initiated in 2011, and recently reaffirmed. As per the policy, Santa Clara County responds to ICE holds only on the condition that the federal government agrees, in writing, to fully reimburse the county for its costs in fulfilling the detainer. Because the federal government does not fully reimburse local law enforcement for all costs associated with the detainers, and will not enter into any written agreements promising to do so, the policy effectively means that Santa Clara County does not respond to any ICE hold requests.

Cook County, Ill. (which includes Chicago), Miami-Dade County, Fla. and Washington, D.C. maintain similarly broad detainer-resistance policies.

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