Special to the Vanguard
Sacramento, CA – Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones was accused of illegally transferring immigrants from the county jail to the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by Sacramento resident Misael Echeveste and two local nonprofit organizations, United Latinos and NorCal Resist.
This week, they announced a settlement in their lawsuit against the outgoing sheriff.
Under the settlement, Sheriff Jones and the County of Sacramento have agreed to change their policies to come into compliance with two pro-immigrant 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 they are provided with written notification in advance of a transfer to ICE.
Among the updated policies are that
- the sheriff’s office will only notify ICE of a person’s release from jail under strict verification processes that meet the criteria of the Values Act;
- the sheriff’s office must provide people with written notification of an ICE interview request, informing them of their rights; and
- the sheriff’s office cannot delay a person’s rightful release from jail to complete any Values Act verification process.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 15, 2021, alleged that Sheriff Jones, through secretive policies and procedures, had operated an illegal ICE notification and transfer system in the local jail since 2018—just after the Values Act, prohibiting such collusion, became law. Documentation obtained by ACLU NorCal through public record requests showed that, instead of allowing immigrants to return home to their families and communities after they had completed their county jail sentences, sheriff’s officials had worked to unlawfully transfer them to ICE.
For example, ACLU NorCal discovered an “ICE Log Book,” which demonstrated that sheriff’s deputies were illegally notifying ICE of a person’s release date and time, as well as internal communications showing that deputies would illegally transfer people to ICE agents waiting just outside jail gates. The suit claimed that the sheriff oversaw these transfers as official policy.
The settlement comes just as the Sacramento Board of Supervisors has taken steps to hold the sheriff’s office accountable. On December 6, 2022, it passed a resolution against the use of county resources for ICE-related activities. It also recently released the results of an independent investigation in a damning report, which verifies that the sheriff, in clear violation of the law, shared the release times of immigrants with ICE so that ICE agents could pick them up outside the jail. The Board had commissioned the investigation in December of last year, after ACLU NorCal presented its findings at a public meeting.
The settlement includes a five-year monitoring period, during which plaintiffs and their counsel will be entitled to internal documents demonstrating how the sheriff’s office is implementing its new policies. If they believe the sheriff’s office has violated the agreement, plaintiffs can go back to court.
“While we are pleased that this lawsuit has compelled the sheriff’s office to change its policies to comply with the state’s sanctuary law, there is still so much work left to do to protect California immigrants from being handed over to ICE for detention and deportation, after they are caught up in an unfair and racially discriminatory law enforcement system,” said Sean Riordan, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “Unfortunately, prisons and jails across California still serve as a pipeline to ICE, one of the most rogue and abusive agencies in the federal government.”
Immigrants’ rights organizations across the state, including ACLU NorCal, had advocated for the passage of the VISION Act earlier this year, which would have prohibited all state and local law enforcement agencies from transferring people in their custody to ICE, without exception. It failed to pass the California Senate in August by a narrow vote.
Advocates argued that such a bright-light rule was necessary to strengthen the sanctuary law and prevent local sheriffs, among other law enforcement officials, from colluding with ICE behind the scenes to transfer people to its custody.
“The sheriff’s office should never have taken advantage of anyone the way they did,” said Echeveste, who was transferred from the county jail to ICE in 2018, in violation of the Values Act. “Many immigrants have language barriers and don’t know their rights. They’re here trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, but they experience stigma and scrutiny that non-immigrants don’t understand. I hope that, from here on out, the settlement means that there is accountability for wrongdoing in the sheriff’s office, and that sheriff’s officials stop looking for shortcuts around the law.”
The plaintiffs were represented by the ACLU Foundation of Northern California (ACLU NorCal) and Conrad | Metlitzky | Kane LLP.