Los Angeles Sheriff Expands Jail Sanctuary Policies
FAIR Take | August 2020
With around ten million people, Los Angeles County is the most populous county in the entire country, and its county jail system, with a 2019 average daily population of over 17,000 inmates, is larger than the state prison system of many states. Its sheriff recently announced he will release more criminal aliens back onto the county’s streets than is required by the Golden State’s reckless sanctuary law.
California’s Senate Bill (SB) 54, the state’s 2017 sanctuary law, prohibits most cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. It also bans honoring most immigration detainers. A detainer is where an individual is kept in custody for up to 48 hours after their state criminal charges are resolved so that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has time to take custody of the criminal alien and start the removal process.
There are limited circumstances where SB 54 allows (although it doesn’t require) jails to honor detainers. For example, if an illegal alien in custody has been convicted of a “serious felony” or a “violent felony,” or has been convicted in the previous 15 years of any of a list of other felonies then the criminal alien may be detained. Detention is also allowed if the criminal alien has been convicted in the past five years of certain misdemeanors, or is a registered sex or arson offender. However, the sanctuary law doesn’t allow an individual to be detained if he/she is only charged but never convicted of those serious crimes, such as the criminal alien who infamously shot and killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco in 2015.
After SB 54 took effect, Los Angeles County’s then-Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, continued to honor detainers in cases where the state sanctuary law allowed for exceptions. According to a 2019 report by the Sheriff’s Department, 945 inmates were transferred to ICE in 2018, down from 1,223 in 2017.
However, the County’s new sheriff Alex Villanueva, who was elected in November 2018, “temporarily” stopped honoring detainers in April – even for those who qualified as an exception under SB 54. On August 3, in a letter to the County’s governing board of supervisors, he announced he was making the policy permanent. According to Sheriff Villanueva, detainers will not be honored unless ICE produces a judicial warrant. This has been called the “sanctuary fig-leaf,” since judicial immigration warrants do not exist under federal law.
Unsurprisingly, open-borders groups praised the move. They also urged the County supervisors to codify the policy change so that it could not be undone by a future sheriff.
ICE spokesman Alexx Abascal condemned the move, saying “[p]olicymakers who strive to make it more difficult to remove dangerous criminal aliens and aim to stop the cooperation of local officials and law enforcement partners harm the very communities whose welfare they have sworn to protect.”