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Supervisors Hold Forum On State Immigrant Detainee Laws

Undersheriff Michael Barnett speaks at the Board of Supervisors' community fo...

Photo by Mike Damron / KPBS

Above: Undersheriff Michael Barnett speaks at the Board of Supervisors' community forum on the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds Act on Nov. 19, 2019.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday heard from immigrant rights activists concerned over how the San Diego County Sheriff's Department enforces two state laws involving federal agents and their access to undocumented jail inmates.

During the community forum on the state's Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds Act, dozens of speakers voiced their concerns that the sheriff's office was still allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement the ability to apprehend inmates once they're released from county detention centers.

Undersheriff Michael Barnett told the board that two immigrant transfers were improperly handled in January 2018.

While the sheriff's office couldn't discipline the deputy involved, because he was leaving the department, Barnett said sheriff's officials have met with the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

Reported by Priya Sridhar , Video by Mike Damron

The sheriff's office will also no longer honor ICE notification requests until an individual has been convicted, Barnett said, adding that ICE agents are now required to be checked in via the primary entrance point at each facility.

"Although the law allows the sheriff the discretion to cooperate with immigration authorities," Barnett said. "In cases in which a judicial finding has been made on a qualifying charge, out of an abundance of caution, we will no longer be honoring ICE notification requests until the individual has been convicted of a qualifying charge."

Immigrant rights proponents faulted the county for not fully complying with the TRUTH Act or Senate Bill 54, which limits cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities.

Others criticized sheriff's officials for holding the meeting during a time when they said most couldn't attend. They also took issue with the board's previous support of the Trump administration's lawsuits against California policies on immigrant rights.

"I deal with young people who are worried every day that their parents or their family members might be picked up by ICE and they're scared of going home to not having parents at home," immigrant rights activist Rebecca Bartel said. "This is a real fear."

San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium made seven demands, including removing a list of inmates pending release from the Sheriff Department's website.

Sheriff Bill Gore said he's open to continuing dialogue with the consortium in its quarterly meetings.

"Perception is so important," he said. "If there's something that we can do differently that changes the perception without impacting good public safety, I want to listen to it."

In April 2018, the board voted 3-1 to file an amicus brief to join the U.S. Justice Department's lawsuit against three state policies pertaining to immigrant detainees. Since then, the board's makeup has changed with Jim Desmond and Nathan Fletcher replacing Bill Horn and Ron Roberts, respectively.

Listen to this story by Priya Sridhar.

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