Sheriff’s Office hasn’t worked with ICE, Mims says. Fresno activists aren’t convinced

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims on Tuesday said her office didn’t hand over any undocumented people to federal immigration agents last year — a report that elicited skepticism among some activists.

Mims presented that information during the TRUTH Act public forum in front of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

Since last year, under the act local jurisdictions and law enforcement have been mandated to hold a public forum, to let the community know about the local activities of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

People spoke on both ends of the immigration debate Tuesday. Some supported Mims, while others criticized her handling of Senate Bill 54, saying the forum could have been more accessible to the community.

SB 54, also known as the state’s sanctuary law, limits local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration agents.

“I feel ICE threatens our immigrant community,” said Maya Flores, alleging Mims helps facilitate its work locally.

Among those who spoke in support of Mims was Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau. He said he believes, Mims is “very transparent and she bends over backwards” to implement the laws, even though, sometimes people disagree with certain legislation.

“She probably has heartburn over some of the things she has to follow,” he said. “But she does a fantastic job.”

The TRUTH Act also requires local law enforcement to release statistics on whether they cooperated with ICE the previous calendar year.

The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office released a one-page document showing it had received 661 detainers — requests to hold an individual beyond their jail release time for ICE — in 2018, though none were processed.

What ultimately happened to those 661 individuals, who represented a 2.1% of 2018’s total bookings, isn’t known.

The document also shows the Sheriff’s Office handed over three inmates to ICE in 2018. During the forum, however, Mims made a correction on that statistic.

“Recent research into these cases show that these were actually not transfers,” she said. “ICE took these inmates into custody after they left the secured area of the jail and were in the jail lobby. A correctional officer saw the arrests, and erroneously logged them as transfers.”

Last September, The Bee reported the Sheriff’s Office policy allows ICE agents to enter a “release vestibule area” — a small room with a locked door on each end — to make arrests.

But the Sheriff’s Office said it doesn’t track how many arrests ICE makes in the vestibule area or in jail’s public lobby, where the three people in question were taken into custody.

During an interview, Mims said her office doesn’t keep track of people arrested by ICE in the vestibule or in the jail’s lobby, but the correctional officer happened to see the three ICE arrests when they took place in 2018.

“We don’t see them all,” she said.

Luis Ojeda, with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, pointed out the number of Fresno County’s inmate transfers to ICE in 2018, shown on figures from the state’s Department of Justice, indicate there were four.

Mims told The Bee she hadn’t seen those numbers.

Three of the four charges on the Department of Justice document match those listed on the statistics released by the Sheriff’s Office.

Ojeda questioned how well the Sheriff’s Office tracks data. He believes arrests made in the vestibule area should also be counted as inmates transfers.

Mims said her office doesn’t have the personnel to vet every case to see how SB 54 would apply. That’s why her office recommended ICE to check inmates’ release dates that are also available to the public.

She said ICE is also now registered on a system that provides victims and witnesses, among others, with updates on cases going through the criminal justice system.

“When any person that they want is going to be released, they will actually get a telephoned notification automatically from the” system, she said.

In the last three years, a total of 264 victims of crime in Fresno have obtained legal immigration status through U Visas, for their willingness to cooperate with law enforcement, Mims said.

That category of visas are reserved for victims of certain crimes.