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A Year Into California's 'Sanctuary' Law, Not All Police Departments' Policies Reflect Its Changes

A year after the state passed the California Values Act to create a firewall between local law enforcement and immigration enforcement, some local agencies still don’t fully comply with the measure and many still routinely interact with federal immigration officials thanks to joint task forces, and shared databases and workspaces.

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Speaker 1: 00:00 It's been more than a year since California and acted SB 54 commonly called the sanctuary state law. It never really did give total sanctuary to people living in the state illegally, but it did limit how law enforcement agencies were allowed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Now, a new review shows that SB 54 has still not been fully embraced by San Diego law enforcement. Joining me as Sara Libby, voice of San Diego's managing editor in Sarah, welcome to the program. Thanks so much. Remind us if you would, how the California values act change the way police departments work with immigration officials.

Speaker 2: 00:39 So the overall goal was to create sort of a firewall between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration enforcement. And it did that in quite a few ways. One of them is that local police aren't supposed to use federal authorities as translators, you know, to sort of help them separate themselves when they're dealing with immigrants, uh, who they interact with. Uh, you're not supposed to have dedicated jail space for ice officers in local jails. Um, and so things like that that really sought to just make sure that there's some distance in between the activities of police and the activities of federal immigration authorities.

Speaker 1: 01:18 And this isn't just California being a stubborn, right. I support supporters say there are practical reasons for local law enforcement to separate from immigration enforcement.

Speaker 2: 01:27 Yeah, absolutely. We've even heard from several, you know, police officials throughout the county that they really value the ability to get information and have immigrants report crimes that they experience and they don't want them to be afraid to come forward with information that they have or to report crimes that have happened to them. And so I think they believe that there has to be some optics, um, showing members of the community that, that they are there to take that information and that they're willing to work with them on issues that might be of concern to them and that they won't, you know, just turn them over to immigration. Did hmm.

Speaker 1: 02:06 Police departments in San Diego routinely work with immigration authorities before SB 54?

Speaker 2: 02:12 I think it depends, um, on the department. You know, a Escondido police had a reputation of being very friendly with icing, coordinating with them, um, on a lot of efforts. Um, the report said that they actually have a, revamped their policies to reflect SB 54 not in every single way. You know, some of the departments we see are complying with the letter of the law, but maybe not necessarily its spirit. Um, an Escondido and the sheriff's department both, for example, got rid of dedicated office space for ice, but they moved to having shared office space. So they all work together with their laptops instead of having a dedicated desktop computer. So I guess on paper they're complying in that way, but the effect is that they're still sharing space and working together. Sarah, you referenced the report. Can you tell us what organization did this review of SB 54 and what were they looking for?

Speaker 2: 03:07 Yeah, so it's called the San Diego immigrant rights consortium. Um, and it's a group of several groups of advocates and they met with, they tried to meet with every, uh, police department in the county. Some were more willing than others to meet with them. Um, I think they weren't able to meet with Coronado or Carlsbad, for example, Coronado even refuse to share their policies and simply provided a letter saying, you know, we follow the law. It's hard to see that when you can't examine the policy for yourself. Um, and it's especially interesting given the SB 54 in addition to separating, you know, immigration and local police was also intended to boost transparency. And so to say, you can't even see our policies is probably not in keeping with the spirit of that. So, which local departments have changed their policies to comply with the law? The report found that most of them have have been going through updates and several have finished those updates.

Speaker 2: 04:06 Um, some are still in the process of updating them, but even the agencies that have changed their policies in order to comply with the law don't necessarily reflect every component in their policies. So for example, they might not say in their policies that they don't allow immigration authorities to work as translators, you know, out in the field. They might not be doing that, but their policies don't reflect it. And so, you know, reviewing the policies is in a perfect way to capture whether departments are complying with the law. But it is one way to see, you know, how they've been responding. What about when local law enforcement works with federal agencies on Joint Task Forces? Is that a gray area for SB 54? So that's something that's specifically allowed and I think it's a good reminder that despite, you know, having passed SB 54 that there are still plenty of ways that local police interacts with and even works with immigration authorities and joint task forces is a big one.

Speaker 2: 05:06 So basically every department in the county is a member of various joint task forces with several federal agencies, including agencies that conduct immigration enforcement. And so, you know, they might be, um, task forces that are aimed at, you know, drug enforcement or preventing human trafficking. But sometimes the result can be that they detain people who are later, you know, process for immigration violations. And so to think that there's a complete separation just really isn't the case. You talked about this private agency that's looked into and tried to get reports from these various law enforcement agencies around the county, is the state monitoring whether law enforcement agencies comply with this new law. So the law does include some components that require agencies to report what they're doing. And one of those, um, involves those task forces. So local agencies just supposed to be providing information to the attorney general about their participation in those task forces and specifically what they're doing. And you know, this review found that it's not really clear how they're doing that or whether they're doing that at all. I guess we'll see when the reports are due, but it's, it's not clear whether they think they're responsible for providing that information or whether the immigration authorities are responsible for that. So that's something that still seems like it's fuzzy.

Speaker 1: 06:29 The overall takeaway on how law enforcement agencies are complying with this new law in San Diego County.

Speaker 2: 06:35 I think the takeaway is that several, um, have, you know, made big strides in updating their policies. And on top of the policies we've heard that they've also been doing outreach in the communities. Um, the Chula Vista Police Department was one that we heard 'em had met with a lot of stakeholders and immigrant advocates about ways that they could improve, you know, how they reach out to marginalized groups. Um, so not just, you know, writing it into their policies, but actually having meetings and taking feedback and kind of incorporating that and to how they interact with these communities.

Speaker 1: 07:09 I've been speaking with voice of San Diego's managing editor, Sara Libby, Sarah. Thank you. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 07:15 MMM.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.