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A month after the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office planned to initiate a new policy to limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities at the county jail, changes have been put on indefinite hold and the department is still responding to all notification requests made by federal agents seeking to deport undocumented immigrants.

The early retirement of Sheriff Steve Freitas, unfunded costs of implementing the proposed policy change and pending legislation in Sacramento are factors behind the stalled implementation.

The future of the policy will now fall on the shoulders of Acting Sheriff Rob Giordano, who took on the role after Freitas’ departure Monday.

“Sheriff Freitas had his view on public safety and immigration enforcement and his proposed policy change was based on that view,” said Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker, who oversees the Sonoma County Jail. “Now, he’s gone and we have Rob (Giordano) as acting sheriff. He needs to weigh in with his views.”

County supervisors are slated to vote Aug. 22 on Giordano’s appointment to serve the remaining 15 months of Freitas’ term. He is expected to be grilled about his views on cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the jail.

“Obviously, we respect the sheriff’s independence, but we want to make sure the sheriff’s policy is consistent with the resolutions and messages we’ve made as a board,” said Shirlee Zane, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.

The Sheriff’s Office is still giving ICE the date and time — upon request — that undocumented inmates will be released, even when they are not convicted of crimes.

In the first seven months of 2017, the Sheriff’s Office received 164 notification requests from ICE and responded to 139. The difference of 25 corresponds to individuals still in jail as of July 31. If they have been released since that time, ICE was notified.

On May 1, Freitas announced that his office would no longer respond to every ICE request for notification of the date and time undocumented inmates are released from jail.

His announcement, on a day known for immigrant rights marches, was in response to recommendations made by Jerry Threet, director of the county’s Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach. Threet urged the sheriff to limit ICE notifications to the release of individuals convicted of serious and violent felonies outlined by the California Trust Act.

Freitas did not fully support Threet’s recommendation, but the sheriff said he would limit ICE notifications to Trust Act violations and 18 other felonies and misdemeanors not outlined in the 2013 legislation, including DUIs and indecent exposure.

For attorneys who work with undocumented inmates at the Sonoma County Public Defender’s office and in private practice, the change in plans has undermined the hope that interacting with local law enforcement wouldn’t lead to deportation over crimes that are not serious or violent felonies.

“My main concern is that a statement was made and for the last three months nothing has changed,” said Bernice Espinoza, a deputy public defender and criminal immigration specialist. “This lack of clarity is creating a lot of fear.”

The initial plan was to create an automated computer program to determine whether or not Sonoma County Jail officials would comply with an ICE request for notification. Those requests are received from ICE within a few hours after an inmate’s fingerprints are entered into a national database.

The Sheriff’s Office received a $43,000 bid from the Sonoma County Information Systems Department to automate the system in July, money not accounted for in this year’s budget.

California Senate Bill 54, which some have called a “sanctuary state” bill, was passed by the Senate and is being debated in the Assembly. It would prohibit jails from notifying ICE about inmates who haven’t been convicted of serious and violent felonies.

“With SB 54 looming we don’t want to have to change our policy just to change it again a month later,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Spencer Crum.

You can reach Staff Writer Nick Rahaim at 707-521-5203 or nick.rahaim@pressdemocrat.com.

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