SAN FRANCISCO – The ACLU Foundation of Northern California and co-counsel Conrad | Metlitzky | Kane LLP have sued Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones for unlawfully transferring immigrants to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The suit alleges that sheriff’s officials unlawfully transfer immigrants to ICE after they have completed their county jail sentences, rather than releasing them to their families and communities or following proper notification procedures inside the jail. The suit claims that these practices violate state law, and that the sheriff—an outspoken opponent of California’s pro-immigrant laws—oversees them as official policy.
The suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court on Nov. 15, was brought on behalf of Sacramento resident Misael Echeveste and two Sacramento-area nonprofit organizations, United Latinos and NorCal Resist. It alleges that the sheriff’s policy and practice of transferring immigrants to ICE violates two landmark state laws: the California Values Act (also known as SB 54 or California’s sanctuary law), which sharply limits when local law enforcement can transfer a person to ICE; and the TRUTH Act, which protects the due process rights of immigrants by requiring that local law enforcement officials provide them with written notification in advance of their transfer to ICE.
Under SB 54, only a serious criminal conviction grants local law enforcement the legal authority to notify ICE about a person’s upcoming release from jail, or to transfer them to ICE. Documents obtained by a California Public Records Act (PRA) request show that the sheriff’s office improperly notifies ICE of the impending release of immigrants from one of two county jails, the Rio Consumnes Correctional Center (RCCC), and works to transfer them to ICE custody, even when they lack legal grounds to do so.
Echeveste, 26, was transferred from the RCCC to ICE in 2018, in violation of SB 54, after serving six weeks in jail for a misdemeanor offense. He has lived in California for 22 years, having been brought to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of four.
Echeveste remembers that, a few days before his scheduled release from the RCCC, sheriff’s deputies told him he was getting released early. They congratulated him and took him to a changing room. But, instead of returning his street clothes, they handed him a green ICE detainee uniform and announced, laughing, that they were transferring him to ICE custody. He remained in ICE custody for a month-and-a-half before being released on bond due to his minimal charges. As a result of the ICE transfer, he is now fighting deportation to Mexico—a country he does not know, and where he has no family or personal contacts.
“Through this lawsuit, I hope to give a voice to other people who are going through this situation, other people who might not know English as well as me, since I was raised out here in California,” said Echeveste. “Just because we weren’t born here doesn’t mean we’re not human and that we’re not deserving of rights. I’m very lucky to have a lot of help in fighting this, and I want other people to be able to fight for their rights too.”
Internal documents uncovered through PRA requests show that, almost immediately after SB 54 went into effect in 2018, the Sacramento Sheriff’s Office strategized ways to evade the law’s limitations on transfers. They developed an illegal notification system reflected in internal documents such as an “ICE Log Book,” which demonstrates that sheriff’s deputies regularly notify ICE of a person’s release date and time, in violation of California law.
Internal documents and communications show that, when sheriff’s officials believe an ICE notification or transfer is permitted under SB 54, they will transfer a person to ICE inside its gates. But where SB 54 explicitly prohibits this cooperation, sheriff’s officials flout the law by transferring a person to ICE just outside its gates. ICE knows when to wait outside RCCC’s gates to arrest people because sheriff’s officials notify ICE when they expect to release someone whom ICE wants to arrest. The complaint presents the stories of multiple people who were subject to these unlawful transfer practices, which demonstrate that the sheriff has thought very carefully about how to try and get around the law to serve people to ICE.
“The Sacramento Sheriff’s Office is inflicting this illegal practice upon people who are eligible to return to their home and communities under state law. If not for their country of origin, they would not be enduring this cruel double punishment,” said Sean Riordan, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “This lawsuit shows that California must outlaw all local cooperation with ICE. It’s still too easy for local officials with an anti-immigrant agenda to find ways to exploit the law and harm our communities. It also compounds racial disparities in the policing, immigration, and criminal justice systems, in which Black and Latinx communities are disproportionately targeted for arrest, detention, and deportation.”
Plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the sheriff’s office to change its policies and practices to come into compliance with the California Values Act and TRUTH Act.
A number of California counties have stopped all ICE transfers from local jails—including San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, San Joaquin, Santa Cruz, Humboldt, and Contra Costa—to come into compliance with these laws.
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