San Francisco – In a letter to sheriffs, the ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) called on sheriffs across California to cease costly and harmful practices that target immigrant communities. The call accompanies a report highlighting personal stories, cost data and proposals to protect public safety while reducing the fiscal and human costs of local enforcement practices that target immigrants.
"Most law enforcement officers do not want to double as federal immigration agents. They know that it discourages witnesses and victims of crime from coming forward and ultimately harms public safety for everyone," said ACLU of Northern California Staff Attorney Julia Harumi Mass. "We want to partner with law enforcement agencies and share what we have learned: that sheriffs and police chiefs across California can adopt practices that protect everyone and make wise use of taxpayer dollars."
The report is informed by meetings and correspondence with communities across Northern California and over twenty law enforcement agencies including: Sacramento Police Department, Santa Clara County Counsel, Santa Rita Jail, Santa Rosa Police Department, San Francisco Police Department, San Francisco Sheriff's Department, San Mateo Sheriff's Office, and Tehama County Sheriff 's Office. It quotes retired Sacramento Police Chief Art Venegas, Berkeley Police Chief Mike Meehan, former LAPD Chief William J. Bratton and several other law enforcement leaders.
"The federal government is not playing fair with local police and sheriffs. Most don't want to engage in the dirty work of immigration enforcement or take on its steep costs," added report author Amalia Greenberg Delgado. "At a time of shrinking police departments' staff and budgets, we hope California's law enforcement leadership will review unnecessarily costly practices and rebuild trust with communities."
The report reviews the legal framework for current police practices in immigrant communities – from vehicle checkpoints and impoundments to prolonged detention of immigrants in local jails, among others. Details are included on the financial and human costs of these practices, including several personal stories.
"People fear that when the sheriff is called, ICE is not far behind. This is a huge problem especially in regards to domestic violence," added Mass. "If victims are reluctant to call local police because they are afraid of becoming ensnared in the ICE web, then batterers enjoy impunity. That's bad for everyone."
The report notes that California's large undocumented immigrant population creates significant pressures and challenges for peace officers and departments. Yet residents with immigrant backgrounds – regardless of immigration status – can mistakenly become targets of unwanted law enforcement attention. This increases local liability risks for law enforcement agencies; the report includes a sample of lawsuits against local law enforcement agencies for actions related to immigration enforcement, including racial profiling.