County Sheriffs Oppose California ‘Sanctuary State’ Bill

March 23, 2017 Updated: May 4, 2018

LOS ANGELES—A fast-tracked state Senate bill is awaiting a vote that could turn California into a “sanctuary state.” But county sheriffs say it goes too far.

Senate bill (SB) 54 goes beyond California’s 2014 Trust Act, which prevents local jails from holding people for extra time based on their immigration status, except for those who have committed certain crimes, such as murder, robbery, rape, or kidnapping.

SB 54 prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources—including facilities, equipment, and personnel—for immigration enforcement purposes without a court warrant. It also prohibits local agencies from sharing important information and leasing jail space to immigration officials. Violators could be subject to civil action, said state Senate president and author of the bill, Kevin de León.

If the bill passes both the state Senate and Assembly with a two-thirds majority and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it will become effective immediately.

Sheriff Opposition

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said SB 54 would force immigration officers to operate more in communities, rather than working directly with law enforcement agencies to gain custody of illegal alien criminals.

“The result of this will be complete and total loss of trust and cooperation with any law enforcement agency,” said McDonnell in a letter to de León dated March 9.

The bill does allow local law enforcement to notify the FBI when illegal aliens who have been convicted of certain violent felonies are being released from custody, but McDonnell said it falls far short.

“SB 54 does not seem to acknowledge the following crimes as ‘violent,’ but I certainly do: assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an occupied dwelling … rape by intoxicating substance … or exploding a destructive device or explosive with the intent to injure, just to name a few,” he said.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens is from one of the state’s few law enforcement agencies that collaborates with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to train designated officers in some immigration enforcement activities.

“It is my belief that we will have more violent crimes occurring that could have been prevented without this bill,” Hutchens told NBC on Mar. 19.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones said SB 54 is invalid.

“I have a strong belief that it violates federal law,” he said, at a press conference on March 6. “And federal law reigns supreme.”

Federal law requires local governments to cooperate with the Department of Homeland Security, which runs ICE.

But local law enforcement cooperation with ICE varies widely across California. Los Angeles County and cities such as San Francisco have adopted sanctuary policies that ignore most ICE requests to detain or report illegal immigrants who are in police custody, even criminals.

Many government leaders in California have pledged to ignore President Donald Trump’s tougher enforcement orders, saying they want to protect families with members who are illegal immigrants.

“We’re preparing to defend the state in the court of law if we have to,” said de León, whose mother was an immigrant.

Nearly one quarter (more than 2 million) of the country’s estimated illegal alien population live in California, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.