The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department announced Thursday it will comply with federal court orders seeking migrant-arrest data that California’s sanctuary state legislation seeks to shield.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials served subpoenas on the sheriff’s department on Friday to compel it to produce information on four recent cases involving arrests of Mexican nationals believed to be in the country without authorization. It was the first time ICE had taken such a step in California.
Though the passage of state Senate Bill 54 in 2017 sought to prevent local police agencies in California from helping enforce immigration law, they nonetheless are “obligated to comply with lawfully issued subpoenas,” the sheriff’s department asserted in a prepared statement.
“Until now, (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) has only requested information from the sheriff’s department,” the county agency stated. “With the issuance of these subpoenas, DHS is using federal statutory authority to compel the sheriff’s department to provide certain records.”
Failing to do so “can be punishable by (findings of) contempt of federal court,” the department asserted.
The subpoenas only call for release of information, not for transfer of in-custody suspects from the sheriff’s department to the federal government, according to the county agency.
ICE officials took the unusual enforcement step last week because the state sanctuary law prevents the department from honoring immigration “detainers” — holds on people present in the country illegally and in local custody — and “prohibits it from granting requests for non-public information to assist in locating criminal aliens that have been or will be released from custody.”
According to ICE, most of the nation’s local law enforcement agencies willingly provide federal immigration officials with information about people arrested on suspicion of criminal offenses while present in the country without authorization.
Such cooperation is not readily available in jurisdictions that have passed immigrant sanctuary laws, as California did three years ago.
The papers served on the sheriff’s department, according to ICE, seek information about the following migrants, whose names have been withheld:
— A 40-year-old man who was arrested in December by the San Diego Police Department on suspicion of sexual abuse of a child under age 14. The suspect has two DUI convictions and has been returned to Mexico on 11 occasions between 2009 and 2011. He remains in county jail.
— A 42-year-old man who was arrested for on suspicion of robbery by the SDPD in November. He has a prior conviction for possession of methamphetamine from 2013. A federal immigration judge granted him voluntary departure, but he failed to leave the United States. An immigration detainer was filed, but, due to the state sanctuary statute, he was released from custody.
— A 31-year-old man who was arrested in December by the SDPD for suspicion of battery of his spouse and false imprisonment. He has a prior conviction for possessing false government identification. He was deported three times between 2008 and 2010. Though ICE lodged an immigration detainer, he was released.
— A 28-year-old man who was arrested by the SDPD last month for suspicion of assault with force, great bodily injury, child cruelty and battery of his spouse. He was also arrested for spousal battery in 2017 and has been deported repeatedly. An immigration detainer has been filed in his case, and he remains in custody.
Since January, ICE has issued similar subpoenas in Connecticut, Denver and New York.
Should any of the served law enforcement agencies neglect or refuse to respond to the writs, an immigration officer may seek a U.S. District Court order requiring compliance, according to the federal immigration agency.