Santa Clara County Reconsiders ‘Sanctuary City’ Policy

Four years ago, Santa Clara County joined hundreds of localities in refusing to act as de facto immigration enforcers. Under renewed pressure from the feds and mounting political outrage over “sanctuary cities,” however, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will discuss changing that policy.

Since 2011, the county has refused to hold jailed non-citizens beyond their sentence for immigration agents to deport them. But the District Attorney’s Office and some South Bay residents want the county to at least notify federal authorities when an undocumented immigrant convicted of a serious crime gets released back into the community.

Civil rights groups cautioned that notifying federal agents about an undocumented immigrant’s release can have the same effect as detentions, which courts have repeatedly ruled unconstitutional.

“The difference between detainers and notifications is artificial in the eyes of the community,” according to a letter to supervisors from the Forum for Immigrant Rights and Empowerment (FIRE) Coalition. “That is because they have the same intent and effect—to facilitate transfer of a person into [federal] custody for deportation.”

Through a program called Secure Communities launched in 2008, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) teamed up with local law enforcement to keep undocumented immigrant inmates locked up past their release dates. ICE agents would do this by issuing what they called civil detainers—an order to hold an inmate for an extra day or two.

Source: Syracuse University

Source: Syracuse University

Though meant to catch criminals and high-risk aliens, the directive largely targeted crime victims and non-citizens with only minor infractions. It reportedly made immigrant communities less likely to trust law enforcement, who basically became deputized ICE agents.

More importantly, the initiative violated the Fourth Amendment by allowing ICE to take suspects into federal custody without a warrant.

Just 19 percent of the 8,000 detainers ICE issued in April this year related to a convicted felon, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Two-thirds of those targeted had zero criminal convictions whatsoever.

Citing concerns about civil rights violations and fear of litigation, the county enacted a policy in 2011 to ignore detainer orders. Supervisors approved the ordinance despite public backlash and some concerns from DA Jeff Rosen, who wanted to hold only people charged with violent or sexual crimes.

A series of federal court rulings in 2014 reaffirmed the county’s policy that detainer requests are non-binding and, without a warrant, unconstitutional.

Also in 2014, a new state law called the TRUST Act went into effect, dissolving the partnership between ICE and local police. From the day TRUST became law on New Year’s Day 2014 to June 2015, California refused to honor more than 10,500 ICE detainer requests, according to the agency.

A year ago this month, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees ICE, replaced the controversial Secure Communities program with the Priorities Enforcement Program. Called PEP for short, the new policy supposedly narrowed its scope to people convicted of serious crimes.

“PEP begins at the state and local level when an individual is arrested and booked by a law enforcement officer for a criminal violation and his or her fingerprints are submitted to the FBI for criminal history and warrant checks,” according to an explainer on the DHS website. “This same biometric data is also sent ... so that ICE can determine whether the individual is a priority for removal.”

In theory, PEP limits detainer orders to suspected terrorists and serious felons. It also requires ICE to ask local authorities for an alert when a non-citizen inmate gets released, rather than ordering to keep them locked up beyond their sentence. Even with the statewide TRUST act and nationwide PEP, civil detainers can still be issued under undefined “special circumstances.”

Public debate over so-called “sanctuary city” policies reignited this past summer when an undocumented immigrant who had been deported several times shot and killed a woman in San Francisco. Presidential hopefuls on both sides of the aisle, including Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, urged localities to reconsider their civil detainer policies for violent criminals. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo weighed in, imploring the county to re-think its stance.

Raul Peralez

Raul Peralez

Liccardo's colleague, Councilman Raul Peralez, however, cautioned against politicizing a tragedy. The county, he said, should stand by its policy.

"Immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than citizens," the freshman councilman and former police officer wrote in an op-ed last summer for the Mercury News. "If we want a true fix for crime, we need to fix these loopholes for everyone."

Federal crime figures support Peralez's assertion. Between 1990 and 2013, the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled. Yet during that same timeframe, FBI statistics show that the violent crime rate fell by 48 percent and the property crime rate by 41 percent.

While supervisors won’t vote on a policy next week, they will discuss revisions. One possibility the county has put forward would be to comply with ICE by alerting them to the release of undocumented inmates who are also serious felons, but only with assurance that there’s probable cause.

Additionally, the county would prevent ICE from using county jails or other local facilities for investigative interviews or other purposes. It would also require regular audits of the program to make sure it’s properly applied.

DA Rosen urged the county to expand its proposed ordinance to also alert ICE about non-citizens convicted of drunken driving, drug manufacturing and drug trafficking.

In a subcommittee meeting last month, Public Defender Molly O’Neal said the county carefully crafted its existing policy, which was vindicated in court, and shouldn’t rush to revise it. She said she worries that PEP could expose the county to the same liabilities as the Secure Communities initiative.

At least 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the U.S., according to the Public Policy Institute of California, with 183,000 in this county alone. Statewide, they comprise 10 percent of the workforce. About 79 percent come from Latin America.

Local activists have created a campaign and a petition urging the county to stick to its current policy.

“Responding to ICE notifications is also out of step with the county’s well-rounded efforts of immigrant integration,” the FIRE Coalition noted in their letter last month. “From welcoming unaccompanied minors and families who flee violence and abject poverty, to providing health care services for all residents regardless of immigration status.”

More from the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors agenda for November 17, 2015:

  • Another immigration issue coming up Tuesday involves migrant children, who made headlines last year when more than 12,000 showed up without their families at the U.S.-Mexico border. This county, along with a host of government agencies throughout the nation, agreed to help. County counsel created a network with local nonprofits to provide pro bono legal representation for the children. More than a year since their arrival at the border, however, barely half of those kids nationwide have received a lawyer. Locally, the county continues to seek legal help for these kids, many of whom suffer from psychological trauma after experience violence in their home countries. The American Bar Association determined that the legal needs of the migrant children are so great that the “humanitarian crisis at the border confronting our nation last summer has developed into a nationwide due process crisis in our country’s immigration court system.” Without legal representation, the children run the risk of getting deported.

WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: Clerk of the Board, 408.299.5001

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


  1. Not to create a poop storm here, but does the SJPD and county have statistics on how many people are undocumented? I know they have statistics that break down crimes by race, but just because someone is of a certain race, it doesn’t automatically mean they are here illegally.

  2. Maybe it’s the illegals who are considering changing their policies about this area… consider this news item (sorry, but I copied and pasted it without remembering to include the source).

    In the latest example of the unending fallout from Chuck Reed’s train wreck of a mayoral administration, Javier Lopez Garcia, a 25-year-old San Jose resident was forced to seek police services in a nearby city due to the wholly inadequate staffing level of San Jose PD. Lopez Garcia, suicidal, yet lacking the grit required to kill himself, and apparently aware that he could not count on the SJPD to respond in time to service his needs, was compelled to travel to San Francisco so that he might take advantage of that city’s ability to get enough officers on scene and in time to get the job done. Luckily for him, SFPD responded with speed and manpower and serviced his needs in a matter of minutes. Ironically, in his most desperate of hours, Javier Lopez Garcia, who may have migrated to our welcoming city (by himself or with his family) to do the jobs San Joseans wouldn’t do, was forced to drive 50 miles to find someone to do the job that he himself would not do.

    As of this report, it is unclear if SFPD will be billing the SJPD.

    • FINFAN

      You should be ashamed of yourself. How could you even think to make light of such a heroic action as this? It’s a tragedy. Tragic!

      In a scene reminiscence of the self-immolation of Buddhist monk Thích Quang Duc, who protested the mistreatment of his fellow monks, Javier Lopez Garcia has obviously sacrificed himself to draw attention to so many current local and State problems and issues.

      With his self-sacrifice, Javier Lopez Garcia was obviously protesting the inadequacy of police staffing in San Jose and its effect on police response times which rob people of their opportunity to kill themselves in a timely manner, without the inconvenience of having to drive to San Francisco, in commute traffic, or be forced to take inadequate public transportation.

      Javier Lopez Garcia was obviously protesting the inadequacy of mental health services which destroy a person’s dignity by inhibiting their ability to wait around St. James Park for Mental Health services (They could have counseled him); for Social Services (They could have told him where all the free hand-outs are); the Public Housing advocates (They could have gotten him a free or subsidized place to stay); Drug and Alcohol counseling (They could have had the same success rate rehabilitating him as they usually do), La Raza (Javier Lopez Garcia was Hispanic); the IPA and Ladoris Cordell (same reason) and the horrible state of the County Jail (it’s overcrowded and he would have had to share a room, plus it’s scary in there); and he was protesting the gun laws which forced him to steal the gun he used rather than having to wait 10 days or be refused the sale because he was a felon.

      By sacrificing himself, even though he was just one person, even though he was but a single digit, with that one act of removing himself from the population (not to mention all the future welfare recipients he may have spawned), Javier Lopez Garcia has done more to improve the officer to citizen ratio in San Jose than anything the Mayor and the City Council has ever done.

      No, Mr. FINFAN, it was the system that failed, and it was the system that Javier Lopez Garcia sacrificed himself to fix. I say to you then, in the manner of Captain Louis Renault, “I’m shocked; shocked to find you be so insensitive!”

      (Source: An aspiring, objective, no-spin SJI reporter wannabe)

  3. This article has plenty of quotes — which are all wrong! Every one of them misrepresents the situation.

    They are asserting that illegals commit fewer crimes than the average American. That is wrong.

    The fact is that every person here illegally is committing a crime. As a law abiding, taxpaying white male, I know that if I committed any crime, I would pay the consequences. The same goes for all U.S. citizens. But illegals get a free pass, every one of them. Why??

    I recall reading in 2004 or thereabouts, that there were “34 million” illegals in the U.S. Recently I read exactly the same number! That isn’t possible.

    The number of illegals here is at least double that, and the influx of illegals is accelerating. What’s worse, the illegals streaming in now aren’t Mexicans, coming to “do jobs that Americans won’t do”. They are flooding in from the Middle East, from Central Africa, from China, and from Central and South America now. Mexico is no longet the #1 exporter of illegals into the U.S.

    People wonder why Donald Trump is surging past every other candidate. His common sense proposals explain why:

    1. Mandate e-verify

    2. Strengthen interior enforcement

    3. End visa overstays

    4. Stop amnesty

    5. Improve border enforcement

    6. Reduce illegal immigration rewards

    7. Build the wall

    8. Create Illegal Alien Hotline (Not anonymous)

    9. Cut off Federal Funding for Sanctuary Cities

    10. Create “Sheriff Joe Prisons” for Illegal aliens convicted of committing crimes in the U.S., beyond the crime of actually being here illegally

    What’s wrong with that? Is it better to allow millions of illegals to flood in here? Of course not! Just ask Kathryn Steinle’s parents and husband. We can’t ask Kathryn, because she was murdered by another illegal…

  4. What is the purpose of rules and regulations if we cherry pick what should be enforced? You can not make it acceptable to violate a nation’s border as you will have a flood of illegal trespassers. With the number of babies being churned out , we will be weighed down with unfunded social services , illegal dumping, litter and uncivility.

  5. The PEP program complies with the law. It asks that a police agency call ICE and let them know when they are releasing an illegal alien that fits into Obama’s priorities for removal. These are illegal alien criminals convicted of felonies and significant misdemeanors. There is no mandate that the agency hold these people beyond their expected release date. The only thing that is asked is a simple phone call, email, or fax is made to ICE saying they will be released.

    Notification alone is not a civil rights issue. That would be like saying that it is a civil rights issue notifying you when a sex offender moves in next door.

    The truth of the matter is that these people not only are illegally present in the US, but have shown no respect for our laws. I read the other day about ICE deporting a man who sexually assaulted a 14 year old girl. That girl was his own daughter. Meanwhile activists were demanding that illegal aliens with families be given relief from deportation. I wonder if that poor girl wanted her father given relief?

  6. I’m surprised, that Javier, did not go to the County Sheriffs. They would have done the job, NO CHARGE ! You nameless idiots, that sit back, and pump all of this venom, at the hungry masses, have souls of parasites! You are being led by an equally venoms leader, TRUMP. I hope you are prepared for what is to come, by such hateful rhetoric
    Indian H-1B workers are filling our corporate offices, here is Silicon Valley, while the Chinese are working minors to death, or worst yet suicide. You are what is specifically wrong with our Country. You are the hate mongers of our country..
    The day will come, when you will be exposed, to all. For the contempt, shown for our mankind.
    Here I am, trying to make any sense of the rage I feel for the murders, of so many French innocent victims. Reading your ugliness, irrupts my fury!

  7. Village BS,

    If the ugliness of comments made here interrupted your fury over the tragedy in France, be comforted by the fact that your fury is safe from interruption by your intellect, which appears to be dormant. Trying to track your brand of objectivity is like trying to predict the movements of a moth in a lamp store.

    First you make clear, as you have done in the past, your sympathy for the immigrants of your choice, those here ILLEGALLY from Latin America. These folks you see as the “hungry masses” — foreigners you consider deserving of compassion. Then, pulling the cognitive rug out from under readers trying to follow your line of thinking, you rail against immigrants of another type, those here LEGALLY from India — foreigners you consider deserving of contempt. You top off this one-two punch of concussing contradiction by admitting you are experiencing, at least for the nation of France, RAGE over MURDERS committed by people who are, ironically, in that nation due to the same liberal, culture-destroying immigration policies that have filled America with your favorite “hungry masses.”

    If might be helpful to you to consider this: you are a racist. When it comes to people with whom you identify due to skin color, ethnicity, native land or language, your emotions best your intellect, every time. But with the people are those with whom you don’t identify, like the H- 1B Indian workers, you will extend no emotion-based understanding, instead, you will exercise your right as an American citizen to condemn the H-1B visa program due to what you perceive as its abuse, unfairness, and detrimental effect on this country. In other words, when it comes to issues outside your racial identity, you believe you have the right to engage in factual discourse and argue for what you think are the best interests of America. But when the issues are those with which you racially identify — like illegal immigration, you consider anyone who insists on engaging in factual discourse and arguing for what they see as America’s interests to be ugly and hateful.


    • Finfan,

      You have the Blacksmith pegged. He said:

      “Indian H-1B workers are filling our corporate offices, here is Silicon Valley, while the Chinese are working minors to death, or worst yet suicide. You are what is specifically wrong with our Country. You are the hate mongers of our country…” …& etc.

      That makes no sense; it is just a symptom of the village blacksmith’s hatred and overt racism. This article is about the County reconsidering its ‘Sanctuary Cities’ policy; something that is long overdue.

      If I were advising Mr. Trump, I would tell him to add to his list a proposal a “Citizen’s Right To Vote” card, to be made available to every eligible American. Now I see why the Democrats have resisted that common sense proposal for so many years. Without it, illegals can vote our money into their pockets. Many of them were reluctant to actually vote illegally up to now, but things have recently changed.

      Such a Right-to-Vote card would be in heavy demand — but only by U.S. citizens. With the Internet, and with gov’t NSA spies able to find out anything about everyone, there is no longer any privacy argument, because there simply is no privacy any more. With the end of privacy, there is no longer any reason to not proceed with a national ID card, proving one’s citizenship status. (For the blacksmith, or for others similarly mis-edumacated in government .edu factories: only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote.)

      There is no longer any reason why such an ID card should not be available, and plenty of reasons why it should be provided. We can start with the literally hundreds of attacks on Americans by non-citizens, and by the endless squawking for more taxpayer loot by citizens of other countries who are here illegally. Right now, those foreigners hide out in the shadows. They are right here in America in very large numbers, and more of them flood in every day, completely unaccounted for. Census workers are not even allowed to ask anyone’s immigration status! Is that crazy, or what??

      It’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff; to separate citizens who have the legal right to vote, from the millions of non-citizens in California alone, who are being actively encouraged to illegally vote anyway: Gov Brown just signed a measure into law that requires th eSecretary of State and the Registrars of Voters to automatically issue a ballot to anyone who gets a drivers license — and that follows another law that allows illegals to get drivers licenses! Those illegals do not have to even ask for a ballot. They will be handed a ballot, despite the fact that it is illegal for them to vote! That is insane.

      A “Citizen’s Right To Vote” ID card, with a pin number and a unique identifier, is a very good way to keep foreigners from voting citizens’ money into their own pockets, and also to keep people from voting multiple times like many of them do now. With Brown’s stupid law, voting by illegal aliens will accelerate geometrically. It’s time to put a stop to that lunacy, STAT.

  8. “Only 19 percent of the 8,000 detainers ICE issued in April this year related to a convicted felon”…Ummm….thats a pretty high percentage, considering that they are ALL here illegally.

  9. How to save billions in taxpayer money:

    Institute an ID card system for welfare, food stamps, AFDC, and Social Security. Cross reference those ID cards with fingerprints. Have a 1 year campaign, telling people who use these services that they will not be receiving anything until they have been fingerprinted and ID’d. WHEN they have been through the system, they will receive an INCREASE in their benefits by 10%. You would stop duplicate scammers, end benefits for illegals, account for EVERY PENNY SPENT in these programs, and increase the usable income for those who really need it. Magic!!

  10. I stopped reading at the statement that “only 19% of the 8000 are felons” I don’t even know 1 felon and yet the article seems to pass over this point like it’s no big deal. WTF.

  11. I don’t understand how people who enter our country illegally are protected under our constitution, specifically the 14th amendment.

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