Starting Wednesday, Orange County sheriff’s deputies stopped checking the immigration status of inmates to comply with a new state law, which will take effect on New Year’s Day.
Sheriff’s officials, however, will take advantage of an option in the law allowing them the right to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials a heads up when a class of inmates who have committed serious crimes are about to be released.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 54 into law in October, which essentially prohibits local law enforcement officers from helping enforce immigration laws.
The new legislation, however, is not expected to affect the county’s “beds for feds” program, which provides Orange County’s jails as a facility to house ICE detainees, said Ray Grangoff, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department.
The new law caps how many beds the county can provide in its jails for federal detainees, Grangoff said.
“It basically says we can’t go beyond the number we already have,” he said. “So, essentially we’re grandfathered in.”
Orange County is one of four counties in the state allowed to provide housing for immigration detainees, Grangoff said. The rest of the counties in the state are now prohibited from renting beds to immigration detainees for the federal government.
The “beds for feds” program has been a financial godsend for the department, particularly when it was implemented in August 2010 following the Great Recession when the sheriff was dealing with deep budget cuts.
From the program’s inception in August 2010 through the following June, the federal government paid $26.9 million to house immigration detainees in county jails. The county billed the federal government $33.3 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year, $29.5 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year, $22.8 million in the 2014-15 fiscal year and $31.3 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year.
Earlier this year, county officials renewed their contract with the federal government, upping the number of beds from 838 to 958. That meant the sheriff could increase maximum revenue from $22 million to $27 million annually, Grangoff said.
Retired Orange County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Harrington, who is running for sheriff against Undersheriff Don Barnes, criticized Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who is retiring, for not doing more to lobby against the new state law and other laws passed to address prison overcrowding that critics say has led to many serious offenders being put back on the streets.
“You have to be in Sacramento and defeat that stuff and be out in the public constantly talking about public safety issues,” said Harrington, who is mayor of Aliso Viejo.
Grangoff said the sheriff worked hard to defeat the state law, making phone calls to politicians and writing letters. Grangoff said he lobbied state lawmakers personally and addressed a committee considering the new law.
“Defeat of SB 54 was the number one legislative priority of the sheriff,” Grangoff said.
–City News Service
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