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Sheriff: Sonoma County under increased scrutiny by ICE over immigration policy

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Sonoma County is being closely watched by President Donald Trump’s administration due to conflicting views on immigration enforcement, Sheriff Rob Giordano said Tuesday, saying local moves to limit cooperation with immigration authorities likely factored in the heightened attention from federal officials.

Giordano told the Board of Supervisors that federal officials had made some “interesting” requests for records in an apparent attempt to evaluate the extent to which the Sheriff’s Office cooperates with federal immigration enforcement.

Asked by Supervisor Lynda Hopkins if he felt the Sheriff’s Office was under “increased scrutiny” from federal leaders — whose approach to immigration diverges sharply from Sonoma County’s — Giordano said yes.

“The world is different for us, and I don’t know what’s going to change,” Giordano said. “We are watching that, but the reality is, the facts are the facts. We’re gonna follow the policy. We’re gonna follow the law.”

The records request he alluded to Tuesday came from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and sought the release dates and times of several inmates who were no longer in custody, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.

Giordano last year pushed back forcefully on comments from the acting director of ICE, Thomas Homan, who said in October the Sheriff’s Office had “left (the) community vulnerable to dangerous individuals” because of the way it handled the arrest of an arson suspect erroneously linked by a conservative website to the wildfires still raging at the time. The ICE leader’s remarks were “misleading and inflammatory,” Giordano said six months ago.

Later, in January, Homan in an appearance on Fox News called out Sonoma County as he slammed California’s “sanctuary state” law. The Trump administration is suing California over its set of laws limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Giordano’s comments Tuesday came as he participated in the county’s first annual forum required by a 2016 state immigration law, the Truth Act, to update the public about ICE’s access to local immigrants. The law allows local law enforcement agencies to provide data about their interactions with ICE, which Giordano shared in the spirit of transparency.

“The truth is really the most important piece of the puzzle,” Giordano said. “So many pieces of this issue are about misinformation and confusion.”

In 2017, ICE asked the Sheriff’s Office, which runs the Sonoma County Jail, for 317 notifications about the release date for immigrants in detention, Giordano said. The Sheriff’s Office responded to 212 of those requests.

The Sheriff’s Office in August changed its jail policy to only respond in cases where inmates were convicted of certain serious and violent crimes, mirroring state law that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October. In other cases, the Sheriff’s Office may simply not have had a release date as a result of court proceedings, Giordano indicated.

ICE arrested 18 people at the county jail last year, the sheriff said.

Supervisor James Gore, the board chairman, said he didn’t want to see widespread targeting of undocumented immigrants who committed minor crimes, tearing their families apart by needlessly deporting them. At the same time, he said the county needed to hold serious criminals “to the full accountability of the law.”

“If you don’t have the right to be here, and you’re a bad dude doing bad things, get out,” Gore said. “Are we hitting things right with these policies?”

Giordano told Gore the Sheriff’s Office was “as close as we’re gonna get” and he felt “pretty good about where we sit today.”

Also Tuesday, the supervisors heard an update on an effort they launched last year to raise $2 million over the coming years to help support legal services for immigrants facing potential deportation. The board in June approved spending $100,000 in each of the next three years to support the initiative, which has now raised a total of more than $400,000 in initial commitments, according to county staff.

The initiative, called the Sonoma County Secure Families Fund, released Monday a request for proposals from nonprofits who could provide “comprehensive, communitywide legal support” to local immigrants. Proposals are due May 25.

“I believe that some of the threats by the current administration are downright evil, quite frankly,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “Generating fears in families and in children so that children aren’t sure whether their parents are gonna be there when they get home is just horrific.”

Lisa Carreño, regional director for the nonprofit group 10,000 Degrees, which provides scholarships to low-income students, told supervisors when they directed staff last year to begin the work that would become the families fund, they defended families who are “part of the heart and soul of Sonoma County.”

“Believe me when I tell you this: Our students know and understand what you did, and they are emboldened by it,” Carreño said. “So thank you.”

You can reach Staff Writer J.D. Morris at 707-521-5337 or jd.morris@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @thejdmorris.