Sonoma County law enforcement foresee no local immigration crackdown under Donald Trump

From the outset of his campaign, Donald Trump’s hardline stance against undocumented immigrants, calling for mass deportation and imprisonment of millions of people living in the U.S. illegally, has generated fear and anxiety in minority communities nationwide.

Trump’s election deepened the unease felt by immigrants, including many in Sonoma County’s large Latino population, who are now turning to local law enforcement with questions over how they will handle immigration enforcement under President Trump.

The simple answer, put forward in interviews and a public forum last week, is that the county’s law enforcement leaders expect no change in the way local officers interact with undocumented residents.

Local officers do not take enforcement action based on immigration status alone and no plans are in place to change that policy, according to Sheriff Steve Freitas, Santa Rosa Police Chief Hank Schreeder and Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano, who lead departments serving more than three quarters of Sonoma County’s population.

“The tone in Washington, D.C., does not affect my policy, as a state officer and county sheriff,” Freitas said in an interview Friday after discussing immigration enforcement with other local chiefs at a forum held by Los Cien, the county’s largest Latino leadership group. “Our policy is and has been that (as) deputies we will do no immigration enforcement.”

Law limits cooperation

Freitas, Schreeder and other local chiefs have not declared plans to become a “sanctuary” county or city, diverging from paths taken by cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, where officials have backed politically charged policies in opposition to any increased enforcement of immigration laws.

However, cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement in Sonoma County is already limited to a large degree by state law.

The Sonoma County Jail in 2014 joined jails statewide in rejecting most federal immigration hold requests to comply with California’s Trust Act, which limits state law enforcement’s obligation to cooperate with federal immigration officers.

Schreeder said his officers collaborate with agents from U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, widely referred to as ICE, only when an investigation involves serious or violent crimes.

“We work with immigration authorities when it comes to violent felons in the community,” Schreeder said.

“And that’s a very specific investigative approach based on an individual and an individual’s background versus wholesale immigration status sweeps.”

Savano, the Petaluma chief, said his department doesn’t have a written policy on how officers are to handle immigration status information because “we don’t ask.”

“We’re not doing immigration sweeps and we’re not asking for people to show their citizenship papers,” Savano said.

Sebastopol Police Chief Jeff Weaver said no federal immigration policy shifts will change the way his police force interacts with undocumented people they encounter.

“It will have no change on the Sebastopol police at all. You will notice nothing,” Weaver said. “It’s not in line with the values of our community. Our community expects us to follow the law and the law is to leave federal immigration enforcement to federal immigration.”

Threat of deportation

Trump campaigned on a controversial pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and target for deportation many if not most of the estimated 11 million people in the country illegally. After his election, he indicated in an interview last week with “60 Minutes” that his priority would be to swiftly deport or imprison up to 3 million undocumented immigrants who are living in the U.S. and “have criminal records.”

Since 2009, President Obama has presided over the deportation of about 2.5 million immigrants, drawing sharp criticism from advocacy groups. The Obama administration has estimated that 1.9 million “removable criminal aliens” remain in the United States. That number includes people who hold green cards for legal permanent residency and those who have temporary visas, the New York Times reported.

A wider deportation order under President-elect Trump could have dramatic effects on the farming workforce, which relies heavily on immigrant labor.

It also could affect several thousand young adults on the North Coast who came to the United States as children and have been shielded from deportation by President Obama under a program that Trump could undo.

The prospect of such a stark pivot on immigration policy - not to mention Trump’s consistent?anti-immigrant message on the campaign trail - has had a chilling effect among immigrant communities here, according to local representatives.

Including youths and adults, an estimated 29,000 undocumented immigrants are estimated to be living in Sonoma County, according to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

“If there was ever a time to stand up and speak out for those who have no voice, including our immigrant communities, it is now,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo, whose parents are immigrants from Mexico. “Anecdotally, what I’m hearing from immigrant communities is that they are scared. Children are worried they will come home from school and their parents will be gone.”

Show of support

Carrillo, the current chairman of the board, said he and his fellow supervisors plan to discuss how they can boost local support for immigrants living in the county, and he noted other places that have established offices staffed with immigration attorneys.

On Friday, Freitas earned applause from a crowd of about 140 people at the Santa Rosa event held by Los Cien when he told the group “there is not one person on an immigration hold” in the Sonoma County Jail system.

The jail does cooperate with requests from ICE to be notified when inmates are being released, a practice criticized by some immigrant advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Freitas defended the practice on the grounds that it is public information and any member of the public can call the jail and ask when an inmate will be released.

“We are not a sanctuary county. If ICE calls, we will tell them,” Freitas said in an interview.

Freitas said his agency’s policy is to direct deputies to not ask about a person’s immigration status.

His agency still participates in joint operations with ICE officers that involve gangs, violence and criminal behavior.

Freitas’ policy states “the Sheriff’s Office shall require ICE to refrain from arresting or taking custody of persons solely based on a suspicion that they are unlawfully present in the country, or solely based on low-level traffic violations.”

Carrillo said supervisors “don’t tell the sheriff how to shape his policies,” but he said he will encourage the sheriff to give assurances deputies are in the community to serve and protect everyone.

“My immediate concern is that increased immigration enforcement is going to further disenfranchise people and force them back into the shadows,” Carrillo said. “I don’t want to see their local protections being whittled down.”

ICE request ignored

Then-San Francisco County Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi came under fire last year for his refusal to comply with ICE notification requests. That year, an undocumented immigrant with a criminal background allegedly shot and killed a San Francisco woman several months after jail staff, following policy, ignored an ICE notification request and released him.

The case sparked a political firestorm nationwide, and current Sheriff Vicki Hennessy has since reversed the policy.

California’s Trust Act, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013 and effective in 2014, states that people cannot be kept in custody in California jails solely on the basis of an immigration detainer if they are otherwise eligible to be released.

The law allows exceptions for inmates charged with serious or violent felonies, which include crimes such as burglary, robbery, witness intimidation, molestation and any felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.

‘Expedited removal’

A federal judge in April 2014 ruled county officials in Oregon violated an inmate’s rights when they kept her in jail solely because of an immigration detainer. Federal judges in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island made similar rulings that year.

In September, Brown signed the Truth Act, a companion law that requires jail staff to notify inmates when ICE asks to be notified about their release date.

The law also requires jail staff to notify inmates that they have the right to refuse the immigration interview or require a lawyer be present.

Angelica Salceda, a Fresno-based staff attorney with ACLU of Northern California, said the notification program appears to be a workaround for jails to continue cooperating with ICE despite limits established by the Trust Act.

“They are doing the same thing, it’s under a different name,” Salceda said, adding that inmates are “still being detained by an ICE official right at the door or right outside the door of the jail.”

Santa Rosa immigration attorney Richard Coshnear said he suspects Trump intends to increase ICE’s use of what’s called the “expedited removal” of immigrants, a process that involves issuing a removal order without a hearing before a federal immigration judge.

Coshnear said expedited removal is common at the border but is not common elsewhere in the country.

“There’s really no check and balance involved, and expedited removals are open to terrible abuse,” Coshnear said.

The federal government cannot commandeer state law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws, said Santa Rosa attorney Omar Figueroa. Figueroa, whose law practice focuses on marijuana cases, said that’s why local police aren’t supposed to arrest people following state medical marijuana laws on federal drug charges.

“What are Trump’s powers? He could empower a federal immigration program to expand its reach,” Figueroa said.

Figueroa said the federal government has the ability to create a more aggressive immigration program by sending undercover agents to find undocumented immigrants in communities, such as places where day laborers congregate. But it can’t force local police officers to arrest people on federal charges.

“The federal government is not supreme, we don’t have an all-powerful federal government,” Figueroa said. “There is a balance of power between the federal government and the states.”

Defiance could cost

Still, cities and counties opposing Trump on immigration enforcement could see an impact on their police budgets, which rely heavily on federal grant dollars.

Trump has said he would deny federal funds to local agencies in jurisdictions that have declared a sanctuary status and lenient policies toward unlawful immigration.

The funds buy equipment, such as Santa Rosa’s zero emission electric motorcycles and forensic computers, and support enforcement programs like DUI, traffic and drug trafficking projects.

Schreeder said the possibility of losing access to federal funding would be something city leaders should consider before making any declaration, adding that it’s not his political statement to make.

“The first step in that process is going to involve thinking, ‘What does that mean to us and is the statement worth what it would mean to us financially?’” Schreeder said.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or

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