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.