ACLU claims report proves collusion between sheriffs in Central Valley and immigration enforcement

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The American Civil Liberties Union is calling out sheriffs across Central California saying it has evidence the sheriffs have been working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, against state law.

The ACLU says the 75-page report they released helps confirm long standing suspicions that county sheriffs have been creating loopholes with ICE to allow them to still work together.

"It exposes the many ways in which the sheriffs across the Central Valley have continued to work with ICE, have found ways around pro-immigrant legislation," said ACLU Northern California Staff Attorney Maria Romani.

The Values Act, which went into effect in 2018, prohibits law enforcement agencies from holding people past their release time for immigration enforcement purposes, using any resources for immigration enforcement purposes and disallows transfers from jail to ICE, except under limited circumstances.

However, the ACLU says a December 2017 email from the Former Fresno County Assistant Sheriff Tom Gattie shows the department worked with ICE to come up with an unofficial transfer practice.

In the email, Gattie says the individual will be released from custody into the "release vestibule" where ICE agents could then make their arrest.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in an email it does not comment on pending litigation.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office sent a written response to Action News in response to the report:

"The Fresno County Sheriff's Office complies with the law in reference to any cooperation with Federal law enforcement agencies. It is obvious the authors of the report do not want any communication with ICE, however, that is not what the laws say. One area of concern is what is considered a 'transfer'. When ICE takes a person into custody in a public space it is an independent arrest by them and is not a transfer from the Sheriff's Office. Transfers are rare due to the specific nature the crimes that meet the criteria of the law. We will continue to follow the law in our ongoing efforts to keep our communities safe."

However, the ACLU says vestibules and other non-public areas of the jail, are, by definition, inaccessible to the public.

The report also claimed Stanislaus, Merced and Fresno Counties have implemented practices that allow ICE to determine which individuals can be transferred under the Values Act.

The ACLU says that's concerning.

"There's no indication that there are any safeguards to check that their determination is accurate," said Romani.

The Merced County Sheriff's Office declined to issue an official comment but a spokesperson told Action News the department does not work with ICE.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office, which was only briefly mentioned in the report, sent a statement to Action News in response to the report:

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office wants to reiterate the fact that our men and women abide by all laws in regards to SB 54, as well as the Truth Act. It is our policy to go above and beyond compliance requirements. The report mentioned has zero documented cases of any violations as it pertains to the Tulare County Sheriff's Office.

The ACLU is now pushing for state legislators to approve the Vision Act, which would remove all caveats from under the Values Act , meaning it would not allow law enforcement to transfer individuals to ICE in any situation.

"It would create this bright line rule that would no longer allow any of these loopholes that we're seeing sheriffs taking advantage of in our region," Romani said.
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