ACLU Report Reveals that Sheriffs in California’s Central Valley Have Developed Shadow ICE Notification and Transfer Systems, Circumventing State Law

Long-Suspected Collusion Documented Conclusively for First Time

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FRESNO – Central Valley sheriffs are pursuing an anti-immigrant agenda through various forms of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, according to a new report released today by the ACLU of Northern California.

Documents obtained through Public Records Act requests show that sheriffs have schemed shadow systems for transferring people in local jails to ICE—people who have completed their sentences, paid their bail, or were granted release by a judge and are eligible to return to their families and communities. Sheriffs’ officials have done so in partnership with ICE agents, circumventing state law.

This is the first time that this collusion, while long suspected, has been conclusively documented.

Most notably, these forms of collusion evade and violate the California Values Act (Senate Bill 54), also known as the “sanctuary law,” which limits when local law enforcement can transfer a person to ICE. Under the law, only certain criminal convictions permit local law enforcement to transfer a person in their custody to ICE.

But the ACLU has uncovered documents showing that sheriffs in the Central Valley have worked to circumvent the law to deliver people to ICE, using the following tactics:

These behind-the-scenes notification and transfer tactics mean that local law enforcement have avoided accurately reporting the transfers of people to ICE custody, as required under the Values Act. As such, the ACLU estimates that at least 1,000 people have been transferred to ICE custody from Central Valley jails since the 2018 enactment of the Values Act—a number nearly three times higher than what Central Valley sheriffs have officially reported. (This number may be even higher due to the fact that some sheriffs improperly interpret what constitutes an ICE transfer.)

Through data and document analysis, combined with the stories of impacted people, the report makes the case for the passage of the VISION Act: proposed legislation which would clearly prohibit all state and local law enforcement from transferring people to ICE. According to Maria Romani, Staff Attorney with the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Northern California and author of the report, the complex web of criminal conviction carveouts that currently exists under the Values Act allows sheriffs to take advantage of the layers of analysis required to implement the law adequately.

“The solution to the continued collusion between the sheriffs and immigration enforcement agents is a bright-line rule like the one proposed in the VISION Act, which would make clear that no person should be transferred into ICE custody,” said Romani. “It’s within the legislature’s power to put a stop to local law enforcement searching out loopholes to ‘justify’ separating California immigrants from their families and communities.”

According to the report, the vulnerabilities of California’s large Central Valley immigrant population—high poverty levels, language barriers, and a dearth of legal service providers in the region—help to illuminate why Central Valley law enforcement officials have remained unaccountable to their abuses of power, and why urgent action is needed from our state lawmakers.

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