Joining new practices introduced by other law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area, the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office will no longer detain individuals on behalf of immigration authorities when they have otherwise been cleared for release.
"We have decided we will modify our policy to state that [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] holds will not be honored or placed on individuals in custody [within the San Mateo County adult correctional system] unless a rare exception arise[s] in cases of individuals who pose significant public-safety concerns," Deputy Rebecca Rosenblatt said.
The decision regarding ICE holds comes in the wake of similar shifts in nearby Alameda and Contra Costa counties. The new San Mateo County policy took effect May 22. The San Francisco Sheriff's Department also joined the effort with a similar announcement by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi on Thursday.
Detention requests by ICE became more common in 2008 as part of the Obama administration's new Secure Communities program, which unified the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to deport criminals who are in the country illegally.
Under information-sharing arrangements set up through Secure Communities, local law enforcement agencies pass along birthplaces and fingerprints of individuals arrested or booked in connection with crimes to immigration officials at Homeland Security.
In cases where individuals' residency status is undocumented, ICE can request that local officers detain them further, even when they have been cleared of all criminal charges.
Detentions generally last 48 hours while immigration officials conduct their investigations, according to Rosenblatt.
However, the individual is usually held at the cost of local taxpayers and in violation of his or her constitutional rights, according to recent court rulings that influenced the move to resist immigration holds at the local law enforcement level.
In April, in Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County, an Oregon court ruled that the county violated the Fourth Amendment rights of a woman detained in jail without probable cause at the request of ICE.
The California Trust Act, which went into effect at the start of this year, also laid groundwork for the recent policy shift. The act asks local law enforcement agencies to comply with federal detention requests only if individuals are charged with serious offenses.
"[In San Mateo County] we're leaving the door open for the off chance that something comes up that doesn't fall within this policy. There can be exceptions for public-safety reasons," Rosenblatt said.
In a statement Thursday, San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi spoke in support of limiting compliance with ICE requests.
"My long-held belief is that local law enforcement should not be in the civil immigration detainer business," he said. "Public safety is not advanced and could be hindered when immigrant communities fear the repercussions of cooperating with law enforcement."