Sheriff’s Department Finds Way to Communicate With ICE Without Violating Sanctuary State Law

May 6, 2019 Updated: May 7, 2019

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has complained that California’s “Sanctuary State Law,” SB54, has made it difficult to enforce the law and comply with federal authorities.

Among other restrictions, the law stipulates that state and local law enforcement are prohibited from holding illegal aliens on the basis of federal immigration detainers or transferring them into federal custody. It also prohibits state and local law enforcement from asking anyone about their immigration status or sharing any information with federal authorities.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department has found a way to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without technically violating SB54. This is because the law, while prohibiting communication with ICE on certain offenses, does allow for information to be shared if it is made publicly available.

Beginning in March 2018, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department decided to publicly release all inmate release dates, thus allowing ICE to be able to know when criminals would be released from custody.

Between January and December 2018, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department transferred 717 inmates to ICE upon the completion of their local sentence.

In 2018, a total of 1,823 Orange County inmates had ICE detainers, meaning ICE requested that the Orange County sheriff notify them when the inmates were released.

In an April press release, newly elected Sheriff Don Barnes spoke openly about his opposition to SB54, saying it hinders law enforcement from properly ensuring law and order.

“Open communication among law enforcement partners is a best practice for public safety agencies,” said Barnes. “SB 54 hinders this communication and puts the community at risk.”

In October 2018, nine members of a drug ring based out of Santa Ana were arrested for trafficking methamphetamine. These individuals were working for Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel.

The smugglers disguised the methamphetamine as decorative Aztec calendar stones and statues to ship to Hawaii. The group had been sending the meth through various FedEx stores throughout Orange County in bags of ground coffee and other decorative items, and authorities were able to seize all shipments.

In August 2018, 20 individuals in the Orange County and Los Angeles regions were arrested for smuggling drugs into the United States from Mexico. These smugglers, also working for the Sinaloa cartel, were caught with about 850 pounds of methamphetamine, nearly 1 ton of cocaine, 93 pounds of heroin, nearly 50 pounds of marijuana, and $1.42 million in U.S. currency.

In November 2017, a drug bust was coordinated by the Orange, Riverside, and Los Angeles county sheriff’s departments that resulted in the arrest of 47 individuals tied with the Mexican Mafia on weapons and drug charges, seven of which were in Orange County. Along with the arrests, 36 weapons including assault rifles, 20 pounds of marijuana, 60 pounds of cocaine, and 12 pounds of methamphetamine were seized by law enforcement.

The number of the individuals in these cases who had ICE detainers and were released back into the community is unclear. However, Barnes said criminals in Orange County have been released due to the sanctuary law.

“The outcome of SB 54 has resulted in the release of criminals back into the community,” said Barnes. “We have an obligation to protect all members of the communities we serve, and that includes preventing those who have committed crimes from returning to the neighborhoods they prey upon.”