As a result of the last presidential campaign and election, a great deal of discussion has ensued regarding the issue of immigration in the United States, and more specifically on the issue of how local law enforcement is going to follow new federal policies such as immigration enforcement and deportations.
To have a safe community we need to have great working relationships with our local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as demonstrated on Dec. 2, 2015.
I would like to be clear on what my department’s legal obligations are on immigration enforcement.
There are misconceptions and confusion on this topic. I understand the complex issues of immigration enforcement in our community, and the impact it has on families, victims, and witnesses of crimes. I do not want the fear of someone’s immigration status to prevent them from reporting crimes or interacting with our deputies.
I can assure you, patrol deputies do not participate in immigration enforcement. Our department’s primary responsibility is for the safety of all individuals. However, I also believe any person who commits a crime should be held accountable and face the legal consequences of the judicial system.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department has more than 3,000 dedicated men and women who provide public safety for more than two million residents. We provide patrol services for 14 contract cities, including unincorporated areas, and operate four county jails. Our county jails book an average of 80,000 people annually. We have an average daily population of 5,500 inmates who have been arrested, are awaiting trial, or have been sentenced by the court for committing various violent crimes.
Historically, immigration enforcement has been the responsibility of federal law enforcement agencies.
In 2005, the Department of Homeland Security asked local law enforcement to participate with immigration enforcement and support the 287(g) program. The department implemented the program in our county jails, which allowed our custody employees to interview and place detainers on inmates who were arrested for various crimes in the county.
In 2013, the State of California passed the Trust Act, which prohibited law enforcement from honoring immigration detainers unless inmates were arrested for serious crimes specified in the legislation. Our department continued to participate in the federal 287(g) program within California law.
In 2014, the department suspended the 287(g) program based on the federal court ruling on an immigration case out of Clackamas County, Oregon. This federal court decision determined immigration detainers were unlawful because they lacked probable cause and did not have a judge’s signature.
It is extremely important to note the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department does not hold any inmate past his or her scheduled release date without a legal warrant signed by a federal judge. This is a crucial point, because there have been, and will be in the future, instances when federal authorities request a detainer, or hold, of an inmate to investigate their immigration status. My department has an obligation to follow the law, and I cannot legally hold inmates past their release date without a warrant signed by a federal judge.
The Department of Homeland Security recently released a memorandum requesting local and state law enforcement agencies to once again participate in the 287(g) program.
Recently, I attended meetings with the National Sheriff’s Association in Washington D.C. I spoke with our federal law enforcement partners about legal authority and issues affecting immigration enforcement. If the United States Attorney General changes their practice and provides legal authority, the department will reevaluate the 287(g) program.
Our department prides itself in serving you by providing the highest level of law enforcement services to all of our communities. We have worked very hard to earn and maintain your trust; it is the foundation of our organization. I will continue to ensure deputies from the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department enforce local and state laws to ensure the safety of everyone.
(John McMahon is the sheriff-coroner for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department)