I-Team Investigation: Sheriff Sniff weighs in on immigration and law enforcement


Sheriff Sniff weighs in on immigration a

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. - California Governor Jerry Brown made a statement on immigration during this year's State of the State Address. 

"We will defend everybody," Brown said. "Every man, woman, and child who's come here for a better life, and has contributed to the well-being of our state."  

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Immigration has been a topic of national discussion in 2017, with President Donald Trump signing executive orders to raise federal enforcement, and talks of sanctuary communities protecting undocumented immigrants. 

Brown also addressed cooperation between law enforcement agencies.

"I'm not going to just turn over our police departments to become agents of the federal government, as they deport women and children, and people who are contributing to the economic well-being of our state, which they are," Brown said. 

But California lawmakers are going a step further, by proposing the idea of limiting communication between federal and local agencies about immigration with Senate Bill 54. 

President Trump also, at one point, bringing up the idea of defunding local agencies that support sanctuary city status, and not cooperating with federal authorities. 

Read: Sanctuary city actions worry some local leaders

The KESQ I-Team sat down with Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff, who said agencies like his are in the middle of differing public perceptions on immigration enforcement, and misunderstanding of overlapping jurisdictions. 

"There's a lot of public misperception, I think, everywhere I travel about separating law enforcement officers at the city and county and state level from federal," Sniff said. "The problem for the Sheriff's Department is, by law in California, we own, operate and maintain a jail system that serves all of the agencies that makes arrests inside Riverside County. You're going to have people taken into custody booked for state offenses, that are booked into the county jail, but also going to be here undocumented. So, it really falls on the backs of the sheriff's departments in California, because they run those jails, to end up being careful. And that care is concerning what happens when we're going to release somebody, and there's an interest from immigration whether it's ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or Border Patrol, or any of the other federal law enforcement officers, to take custody of them before they go back out on the street." 

He said his department does not enforce immigration on the streets.

"The sheriff, back in 1978, banned its officers from enforcing or detaining anybody for immigration offenses solely alone," Sniff said. "What occurs normally is you take somebody into custody if you're a city police officer, or county deputy sheriff, or state highway patrolman, you'll take them into custody for a state offense. But then, they may also be here undocumented. And that presents the rub."

Another issue, Sniff said, is the misunderstanding of ICE detainers. 

According to researchers at Syracuse University, from 2003 to early 2016, 1,888,490 detainers were issued throughout the United States. 440,034 of those detainers were in California. 10,907 were issued to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department. 

Sniff said Riverside County, like all other sheriff's departments across California, stopped honoring ICE detainers in 2014, as federal courts ruled them as unlawful detentions.

"For myself, and the other sheriffs, and the other government officials, we put taxpayer dollars at risk for being payouts for unlawful detentions," Sniff said. "(It's) no different than if we made an unlawful arrest, and put somebody in a patrol car, and transport them to jail, and we didn't have a lawful cause."

Overall, Sniff said collaboration on all levels should be key moving forward. 

"It's not in the public's interest that we create those barriers on communication," he said. "There's too much at stake these days with the counterterrorism issues, that we all even have a direction at the local level do. And we need to enhance the sharing information, and not build barriers."

S.B. 54 is now in the State Assembly, after passing the Senate

The bill's author, Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), sent a statement regarding S.B. 54: 

"My legislation allows for state prisons and county jails to notify immigration officials prior to the release of serious or violent felons. But when local police are seen as an extension of ICE, they lose the trust of the immigrant community. As a result, crimes go unreported, criminals roam free, and all of us are placed at greater risk. Local law enforcement officers should not be pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding residents and tear apart families."


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