Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims was among law enforcement leaders from across the country Wednesday to hear President Donald Trump ask for their help in catching and deporting criminals who are undocumented immigrants.
Mims, a member of the National Immigration Forum’s Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force, has been in Washington, D.C., for the past few days for a national gathering of police executives from throughout the U.S. – a grouping of winter conferences involving the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs’ Association, and the National Sheriffs’ Association. Trump addressed the organizations Wednesday to talk about his immigration policies, including travel restrictions on refugees and visitors from certain countries in his efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Mims is among more than 60 sheriffs and chiefs of police comprising the immigration task force, which was convened about two years ago by the National Immigration Forum. The forum describes itself as politically center-right and is based in Washington, D.C. Mims and members of the task force met Tuesday with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and other members of Congress.
The sheriff did not have an opportunity for direct face time with the president. But if she had, Mims told The Bee by telephone Wednesday, “I would ask that he listen to the actual people doing the police work in our local communities.”
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Individual policies can do more harm than good to what we’re doing in our communities.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims
“I understand the federal regulations, that the law is the law. But individual policies can do more harm than good to what we’re doing in our communities,” she added. “No one I’ve talked to back here, not one police chief or sheriff, wants to be involved in enforcing immigration laws in the field. We’ve got our hands full with what we’re supposed to be doing in the community.”
In his speech Wednesday morning, Trump called upon local law enforcement to aid the federal government in apprehending “the illegals” who are engaged in drug and gang crimes and other offenses in cities and counties. “You have the power and knowledge to tell (Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly) who the illegal immigrant gang members are,” he said. “You have that power because you know them. … You know the illegals. You know them by their first name. You know them by their nicknames. You know the bad ones. You know the good ones.”
“I want you to turn in the bad ones,” Trump added.
In 2015, Mims was among the signatories to a letter from the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force to congressional leaders arguing against “ineffective” and “misguided” legislation that would require local law enforcement agencies to take on the federal role of immigration enforcement. Such policies, the letter said, “pose real danger to existing relationships between immigrant communities and local law enforcement.”
“Undocumented residents may fear that they, or people they know or depend upon, risk deportation by working with law enforcement. This fear undermines trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve, creating too much room for dangerous criminals and violent crime,” the sheriffs and chiefs wrote. Congress, they argued, “should focus on reforms to allow state and local law enforcement to focus resources on these very clear threats to safety: dangerous criminals, violent crime and criminal organizations.”
The letter said trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement is critical to successful community policing. “All should feel safe in our communities and comfortable in reporting crimes, serving as witnesses, and calling for help in emergencies,” the letter said. “This improves community policing and safety for everyone.”
You know the illegals, you know them by their first name, you know them by their nicknames. You know the bad ones, you know the good ones. I want you to turn in the bad ones.
President Donald Trump, addressing a conference of U.S. police chiefs and sheriffs in Washington, D.C.
Fresno County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Botti said Wednesday that the department’s deputies don’t concern themselves with the immigration status of people they encounter during calls for service, whether victims or suspects. “We don’t get into immigration in the field,” he said. “We only arrest based on the crime that’s right there.”
Deputies often find themselves confronted by mistrust and fear among the immigrant communities with whom they come in contact, said Botti, as well as persistent rumors that the department is participating with federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement in immigration sweeps in the county. “We just don’t have the manpower or the desire to go out to farm labor camps and scoop people up just to see what their immigration status is,” Botti said.
Mims, however, has been criticized by immigrant advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union over her department’s cooperation with ICE agents once suspects who are undocumented land in the Fresno County Jail. That cooperation, she said Wednesday, squares with the president’s call to “turn in the bad ones.”
“I think getting rid of the bad ones is exactly what we’re doing at the jail,” Mims said.
The jail program, which began in mid-2015, allows ICE agents to work from inside the Fresno County Jail. Under current law, jail employees ask inmates if they were born in the U.S. and, if not, are they here legally. “We just ask the question,” Mims said, adding that it’s the federal agents who make the determination about documentation status and review an inmate’s criminal history before deciding if they should be deported.