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Fresno County violated state sanctuary law, study claims. Sheriff disputes findings

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is among 68 law enforcement agencies in California that were found to have violated the state’s sanctuary law, a new study found.

The study, conducted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice- Asian Law Caucus, University of Oxford’s Centre for Criminology and Border Criminologies, was released Wednesday. The report is based on an examination of public records from 169 law enforcement agencies.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, however, called the study’s findings inaccurate. “The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office has been and will continue to be in compliance with provisions of SB 54,” she said.

The study found many law enforcement agencies are exploiting exceptions in the law. But the study has limitations, as it only looked at the beginning of the law’s implementation from January to May 2018.

For example, some law enforcement agencies are trying to get around the law by publicly posting inmates’ information and allowing ICE “to enter non-public, secure areas of jail facilities” to carry out arrests of individuals who have completed their sentences and are slated to be released from jail, according to the study.

The Bee in September reported the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office’s ICE Access policy allows agents to enter an area called the release vestibule — a small room with a locked door on each end — to make arrests. Only correctional officers are able to buzz open the doors.

ICE agents are required to check in at the front lobby to be buzzed into the vestibule area. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office in September said it didn’t track the number of ICE arrests that occurred in the vestibule area.

Angela Chan, one of the authors of the report, said the Sheriff’s Office is required to track those statistics and make them available to the public upon request.

“Given that in these ‘releases’, there is no effective break in the chain of custody from (law enforcement agencies) to ICE, these arrests are de facto in custody transfers that nonetheless likely are not recorded or reported as such to the California Attorney General as part of annual reporting mandated by SB 54,” the study reads.

Chan said if any of the individuals arrested by ICE in the release vestibule are protected under SB 54, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office is opening itself up to liability.

But Mims, who said the study was incorrect in several areas, maintained the vestibule is a public area.

“The lobby vestibule is an out of custody area and all law enforcement officers have access to... in order to detain a person they are taking into custody,” she said in written responses.

Another reason cited for Fresno County being in violation of the law, is that deputies are allowed to share information with ICE about detainee probation and parole check-in dates and time.

“That’s very problematic,” Chan said. Not only does it violate SB 54, but it also counters the responsibility of the Sheriff’s Office, which is to encourage people to check-in while on probation, she said.

Mims did not say whether her department shares check-in times with ICE. She did say probationers and parolees don’t check in with the Sheriff’s Office as they are supervised by the Probation Department and State Parole.

Mims also noted her office provides special parking spaces to all law enforcement agencies, not just ICE.

The study provides recommendations for the California Legislature to consider options like discontinuing information-sharing with ICE, ending jail transfers to ICE, prohibiting agencies from allowing ICE into non-public areas in the jails, and ensuring compliance with the law through violation investigations and imposing financial penalties, among others.

Chan said researchers are also hopeful that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will review their report, take note on the issues with the law and require non-compliant agencies to “correct their policies and practices.”

“I think it undermines the intent of the Legislature,” she said of the noncompliance.

The study also found the number of arrests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at local jails in California decreased by 41 percent during the first five months of 2018, following the implementation of the state’s sanctuary law.

There were 2,213 arrests in local jails from January to May, compared to 3,749 during the immediate previous five months in 2017, right before the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. A 24 percent reduction in the total number of arrests throughout the state during the same time period is also noted in the report.

The study also compared California with Texas, which has anti-sanctuary policies, resulting in an increase in ICE arrests.

“It does confirm the goal of the purpose behind SB 54, which is to reduce the number of people who are turned over to ICE,” said Chan. “At the same time, there could be even more impact if (law enforcement agencies) comply with SB 54 fully.”

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