ICE ‘Mistakenly’ Allowed Into Santa Clara Co. Jails, Sheriff Says

The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office violated state and local sanctuary policies by allowing federal immigration agents to interview inmates.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, which broke the story Tuesday, Sheriff Laurie Smith acknowledged that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation officers were “mistakenly” let in both the Main Jail in San Jose and Elmwood correctional facility in Milpitas on March 7 and 8.

Smith issued a statement affirming that ICE detained none of the inmates and that her staff “reevaluated and strengthened the clearance procedures in which all law enforcement agencies are permitted to enter our facilities.”

A similar breach happened in San Francisco.

It’s unclear how state officials will enforce newly enacted “sanctuary state” laws, which limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Santa Clara County has had its sanctuary policies in place since 2010. The local policy prevents the Sheriff’s Office from allowing deportation officers in its jails and from complying with immigration holds, which are basically written requests from ICE to hold inmates up to 48 hours their court-ordered jail stay.

ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan denounced sanctuary policies as a public threat.

“Sanctuary policies, which have pushed ICE out of jails, force our officers to conduct more enforcement in the community, which poses increased risks for law enforcement and the public,” he said in a media statement. “It also increases the likelihood that ICE will encounter other illegal aliens who previously weren’t on our radar. It is nonsensical to demand that ICE solely focus on criminals, while simultaneously preventing ICE from arresting criminal aliens inside the secure confines of local jails.”

Unlike the willful violation of state sanctuary laws by Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who agrees with Homan, Smith emphasized that the ICE entries in Santa Clara County were inadvertent.

“The county of Santa Clara has a policy of not cooperating with ICE operations,” Smith told reporters. “The Sheriff’s Office does not accept ICE holds and has a longstanding policy of not allowing ICE agents access to our custody facilities. Unfortunately, a few weeks ago staff mistakenly permitted ICE entrance into our jail.”

Subsequent attempts by ICE to gain entry on March 14 and 26 were denied, sheriff’s officials said. NBC Bay Area reported that another attempt was made on Wednesday.

In her statement on Tuesday, Smith reaffirmed the county’s aim to build trust with its sanctuary policy. “We value the trust and rapport we’ve earned with our local immigrant community,” she said, “and we will not break that trust.”

County Supervisor Dave Cortese echoed the sheriff’s statement.

It should be noted that while sanctuary policies prevent certain types of coordination with immigration agents, local police still work with ICE and affiliate agencies on on multi-jurisdictional investigations. Local law enforcement also train together with ICE and share facilities, such as shooting ranges.

Last year, officers from ICE’s investigative unit, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), took part in Urban Shield, a controversial SWAT training and military expo hosted by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and attended by South Bay law enforcement agencies.

In early 2017, HSI officials made an effort to strengthen its ties with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, according to emails obtained by San Jose Inside almost exactly a year ago through a formal records request.

There was also some discussion between federal immigration agents and Assistant Sheriff Rick Sung about having HSI officers use the sheriff’s shooting range.

The county’s Probation Department maintains regular communication with ICE and affiliate agencies, too, records show. Law enforcement in other Bay Area jurisdictions, including Alameda County, have similar working relationships with ICE and HSI.

But the sanctuary policy violation in the jails this week gave Smith’s critics more ammo. Former Undersheriff John Hirokawa, who’s challenging her run for re-election in June, called the sanctuary policy lapse an example of “reactionary leadership.”

“The choice facing voters in June’s election was made more clear with news that county and state immigration policies, as well as the public trust, were violated multiple times under Laurie Smith’s watch and as she asks voters to trust her with a sixth term in office,” Hirokawa said in a press release issued Tuesday.

The county’s jails have been under unprecedented scrutiny since three jail deputies fatally beat a mentally ill inmate named Michael Tyree in 2015. A blue-ribbon commission that formed in response to the murder later handed down scores of recommendations, including the creation of an independent monitor to audit and oversee the troubled jails.

Earlier this month, the county finally voted to form the independent auditor’s office, which will act as a watchdog for both the custody and patrol divisions.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. If Sheriff Laurie Smith has nothing to hide, she should welcome visits, inspections, corroboration, and input from other lawful, parallel, and recognized law enforcement agencies in the area.

  2. This wouldn’t be the first violation of this department; it has been a systemic corruption of judiciary and other local agencies. The Sheriff’s department is one of those agencies. Dave Cortese is close friend of the Sheriff’s, so his Tweet is not a surprise. Santa Clara County is in great need of systemic judiciary and law enforcement reform. These people became too powerful by creating a monopoly of judiciary, legal, and law enforcement entities, individuals, and their elite circle!



  3. It’s way past time for President Trump to “Fergusonize” the San Jose PD and the SCC Sheriff’s Department.

  4. Boy it is way to long for the Sheriff’s department or the county to put a term limit to get rid of worthless Sherriff’s like Smith. She needs to go. Sure she will run for a the county seat next. She knows what a cash cow she can get with the county. Is this what you call double dipping like Pete Constant on pension reform. They both know how to take our public money.

    • Sheriff candidate Lajeunesse did the same. He was called out on his “double dipping”. He took advantage of the system and took advantage of tax payers by double dipping to beef up his retirement. This guy doesn’t want to protect the people of Santa Clara County, he wants to continue taking advantage of them.

  5. It all is a mirror image of what is happening on the education side as well. The Santa Clara County Office of Education hires scoundrels like Gundry and DeLaTorre who leave in disgrace with hefty taxpayer funded severance packages. The Board also appoints trustee swill like Kelly King who uses public funds to underwrite her political ambitions. These pigs have no shame and continue to feed at the public teat like entitled piglets!

  6. It is too bad that our law enforcement officers who are hired and trained to protect the citizens of our communities and uphold the law. Instead, each and everyone of our officers are breaking the law and putting criminals right back into our neighborhoods to OFFEND again. They are ILLEGAL.. Each day they remain in the US they are breaking the law. I was raised to respect the law and I do just that. BUT I do not respect the law enforcement who break the law. That includes Lori Smith, the chief of police and everyone who is paid to keep our neighborhoods safe.

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