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‘Sanctuary state’ law doesn’t spell significant change for Sonoma County law enforcement

An individual is fingerprinted by a Sonoma County Sheriff's deputy while being processed at the Main Adult Detention Facility, in Santa Rosa, on Thursday, February 9, 2017. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

NICK RAHAIM,

California’s new ‘sanctuary state’ law is expected to have limited impact in Sonoma County because of current restrictions already in place about cooperation with federal immigration agents, local authorities said.

The main change will be to shield immigrants convicted of driving under the influence from immigration-related notices to federal authorities when they are set to be released from jail, local officials said.

Senate Bill 54, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday and effective Jan. 1, largely prohibits state and local law enforcement from using staff or funds to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents unless those individuals have been convicted of one or more offenses from a list of 800 crimes outlined in a 2013 state law.

Sonoma County sheriff’s officials said the new law aligns with department policy put in place this summer.

“We’re pretty much in line with the new law,” said Sgt. Spencer Crum, spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office. “SB 54 won’t have any significant impact on what we’re doing right now.”

Since mid-August, when Sheriff Rob Giordano implemented the new policy at the county jail, officials only respond to federal notification requests on inmate releases in cases where inmates have been convicted of serious and violent crimes outlined by the state Trust Act. The 2013 law prevented county jails from detaining inmates for additional time past their release date at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Giordano also named a dozen additional crimes that would warrant cooperation with ICE, including DUIs, battery and sex crimes relating to minors.

The new state law will block the Sheriff’s Office from cooperating on those dozen crimes selected by the sheriff.

Local immigration advocates had taken issue with Giordano listing DUIs as grounds for responding to ICE requests for notification of jail releases. They welcomed Brown’s signature on the legislation, which was opposed by the California State Sheriffs’ Association.

“DUIs are one of the more common offenses ICE picks people up for, so this is a very significant step,” said Richard Coshnear, a Santa Rosa immigration attorney who heads Comité VIDA.

Immigration judges have stopped granting bail to people convicted of DUIs, Coshnear said, so immigrants often sit in jail months while fighting deportation.

The change in Sheriff’s Office policy over the summer has significantly reduced communication with federal immigration agents, according to jail figures. Before Aug. 18, Sonoma County Jail officials responded to every notification request, with ICE agents arresting inmates upon release roughly a quarter of the time.

Under the new policy, from mid-August through the end of September, jail officials responded to less than half of the requests — 43 of the 90 — sent by ICE. The number of arrests made by ICE agents at the jail was also roughly halved, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Many of the 43 people who met criteria for ICE notification at the county jail had been convicted of DUIs and will now be shielded from release notifications, said Sonoma County Public Defender Kathleen Pozzi.

The new law will also do little to alter how police interact with immigrant communities in Sonoma County, as local police chiefs say their officers do not inquire about immigration status and do not assist in ICE operations.

“It won’t change the way we do business,” said Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder. “(SB 54) is in line with the City Council declaring Santa Rosa an ‘indivisible city.’ ”

The main impact of the legislation will be to give immigrant communities “peace of mind” that local law enforcement will not work with federal authorities to deport people, Schreeder said.

The Los Angeles Times contributed reporting to this story. You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nrahaim.