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Close to Home: Sheriff: Sonoma County will work with ICE only to ensure public safety

(Editor's Note: At the request of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office at 9:43 a.m. Thursday, this piece was updated in the fourth, fifth and sixth paragraphs primarily to correct the number of times the Sheriff's Office has worked with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement this year and to clarify its policy in working with ICE. The previous version indicated the number was four. The Sheriff's Office has since updated that to 15.)

There has been much talk recently in the news about immigration enforcement. I thought it would be a good time to restate the Sheriff's Office policies and practices regarding immigration enforcement and/or cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Sheriff's Office policy is clear that deputies are not allowed to ask anyone, on patrol or in the jail, about their immigration status. If you call the Sheriff's Office for help, whether you are a victim, witness or suspect, you will not be asked about your immigration status. Additionally, our policy is clear that the Sheriff's Office does not, and will not, conduct any enforcement of federal immigration violations. In fact, deputies do not have the legal authority to enforce federal immigration law.

My main goal, and that of our deputies, is to keep you safe. The best way for me to do that is to have people feel comfortable to call for help or to report crimes. There is no danger related to any type of immigration status issues to anyone when calling the Sheriff's Office. We are here to keep everyone in Sonoma County safe.

One of the many ways we work to keep you safe is to respond to requests from ICE regarding inmates in our jail. Everyone who is booked at the jail is fingerprinted. Those fingerprints are sent electronically to ICE. If ICE already has a person's fingerprints on file due to a previous deportation or other crime they may notify us. They usually ask us to tell them when the person is going to be released from the jail. We make this notification in the interest of using any tool possible to keep criminals away from you and your families.

So far this year, we have notified ICE about inmates in our jail 15 times. Two were for felony suspects, three were for domestic violence, one was for a weapons charge, four were for DUI, two were for felony DUI, one for a violation of probation, one for false identification/drug possession and one for assault and battery on another person.

Additionally, my deputies will cooperate with ICE agents if they are in Sonoma County looking for serious/violent criminals in the community. However, our policy is clear that my deputies working with ICE, and the ICE agents themselves, will not detain people solely for immigration violations while we are looking for the serious criminals. If ICE does not agree to these conditions, then my deputies will not join them in the community.

I know there are some in our community who want me to stop responding to ICE's inquiries and to not cooperate with ICE in any way. While I am sheriff, we will work with ICE regarding people in our jail because my job is to do all I can to prevent crime from happening. My deputies and I will always do everything we can to keep you and your families, regardless of your citizenship or immigration status, from being victimized.

Steve Freitas is the sheriff-coroner of Sonoma County

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