Immigration advocates derisively called former President Barack Obama the “deporter-in-chief,” but new data obtained by KQED show the Trump administration has been even more aggressive in targeting jail inmates for deportation from San Francisco.
San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said the sheriff’s office received more than four times as many immigration requests in 2017 — the first year Donald Trump was president — as in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
Those requests come from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) anytime someone booked into San Francisco County Jail is flagged as having a potential immigration violation, Hennessy said. ICE could be asking for information, or issuing what’s known as a detainer request — asking the sheriff to keep an inmate in jail past when they should be released on their local criminal case.
“What has changed is the number of requests we are getting,” she said in a recent interview.
“On a detainer, they’d like us to hold somebody and let them know when we’re finished with them so they could come and get them. If it’s a voluntary notification, they want us to let them know whenever we are releasing somebody.”
Hennessy said that in 2016 ICE issued 133 requests. In 2017, that number jumped to 519. San Francisco hasn’t complied with any of those requests, she said, because no one has met the limited criteria allowed under state and local sanctuary laws. Those laws prohibit the sheriff from holding someone past their release date — or sharing information with ICE about an inmate — unless the person has a violent criminal history.
By contrast, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office — which has had a closer and more cooperative relationship with ICE — saw the number of ICE requests jump between 2016 and the first 10 months of 2017, from 1,603 to 2,540.
But the number of inmates handed over to ICE stayed about the same, around 1,000.
Los Angeles, and all California counties, are now barred from detaining any inmates past their release date for ICE under Senate Bill 54, which took effect in January. Under the law, sheriffs can cooperate with ICE if an inmate has a violent criminal history.
ICE opposes the law — when California Gov. Jerry Brown signed it last year, ICE acting director Thomas Homan said it would undermine public safety and force ICE enforcement out of jails and into the community, where more people might be swept up in what’s known as collateral arrests.
This week, ICE launched a wide sweep in the Los Angeles area, arresting more than 100 people. In a statement acknowledging this week’s enforcement push, an ICE spokeswoman echoed earlier criticisms of sanctuary policies and laws, indicating that they are to blame for the agency’s actions this week.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security. This means that, ideally, we are working with local police and county jails to identify public safety threats in their custody, who are also in the country illegally, for deportation,” spokeswoman Danielle Bennett said in a written statement.
“While the vast majority of cities in America do cooperate with ICE, others force ICE to focus additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and the aliens at greater risk and increasing the incidents of collateral arrests. That is what ICE is now doing in Los Angeles, and what ICE will continue to do in uncooperative jurisdictions. Sanctuary cities are not immune from federal law.”