Approximately three dozen protesters picketed the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office on Thursday demanding a moratorium on the deportation of jail inmates.
The group of activists, some of whom said they have been fasting for close to a week, called on the sheriff to stop participating in a federal deportation program while immigration laws are being negotiated in Congress.
Their hourlong demonstration came the same day the U.S. Senate approved a sweeping bill that would allow the nation's estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants to become U.S. citizens. The bill is expected to be taken up next in the House of Representatives.
"Future citizens are being deported," said Jesus Guzman, an organizer with the Graton Day Labor Center, of undocumented workers who get arrested and are turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Guzman and other protesters said that innocent people, or those arrested for very minor offenses, are being deported under the federal, jail-based Secure Communities program, only because they are undocumented.
"Two-thirds of the people deported in this country are people who are not being deported for criminal offenses," asserted Christy Lubin, vice president of the National Day Labor Organizing Network.
But Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials paint a different picture. They said that in a recent four-year period, the number of noncriminal immigrants declined and the number of convicted aliens deported nearly doubled.
In 2012, the agency said it deported 409,849 people with 55percent convicted of felonies or misdemeanors.
ICE officials say more than 90percent of the individuals removed last year fit into one of the following categories: convicted criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, recent border crossers and illegal re-entrants.
Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Lorenzo Due?s, who met Thursday with the protesters, said the department is following the law and has no plans to change its policy.