By Ashley Loza
Kern Valley Sun
The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday, May 2, to draft a letter to the California State legislature expressing opposition to Senate Bill 54, a bill that will ban state and local law enforcement officials from cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if passed.
On Tuesday, May 9, the Board approved the letter after lengthy public comment on the matter.
Both resolutions passed with 4-1 votes, with Fifth District Supervisor Leticia Perez in opposition to both.
The discussion was born out of a previous attempt by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood to place a resolution on the Board’s May 2 agenda to formally declare Kern a ‘non-sanctuary’ county in response to the ongoing debate over a potential statewide sanctuary status.
Initially, Youngblood’s proposal was removed from the agenda by County Counsel Mark Nations on the grounds that such a declaration was outside of the Board’s jurisdiction. Nations explained that ‘sanctuary’ has no legal definition as of yet, but it is generally accepted to mean that a sanctuary jurisdiction limits its cooperation with ICE; because this is a decision affecting law enforcement directly, Nations stated that the decision rests with Youngblood rather than the Board.
In response, Youngblood attended the May 2 board meeting and brought his concerns to the board via public comment.
He began by explaining that in the past, ICE would request 48-hour detainers of local law enforcement, in which the Sheriff would hold detainees suspected of immigration violations so that ICE was then able to investigate them.
However, the Supreme Court ruled that this violated the fourth amendment, as it required these detainees to be held beyond their initial release date.
Now, ICE asks to be notified when a detainee’s release date is imminent so that the detainee may be passed directly to ICE upon that date.
Because SB 54 would no longer allow state or local police to cooperate with ICE in this way, Youngblood stated his concern for what this would mean for public safety.
He stated that in the month of April, out of 37 detainees that were released to ICE, 28 of them had been in violation of immigration laws. Ten of them, which he read from a list, were guilty of repeated criminal activity which included drunk driving, burglary, battery and assault, with some including willful cruelty to children and domestic violence.
“If there are people who don’t agree that people like this should be deported, then we just have to disagree,” concluded Youngblood.
Opponents of the non-sanctuary declaration include Dolores Huerta, a labor leader and civil rights activist based in Bakersfield who is well-known for co-founding the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez in 1962.
Huerta argued that such a statement was striking fear among immigrants, a sentiment that was echoed by many other public commenters within the immigrant community.
“I think we really have to think about what kind of message we’re sending to our community,” said Huerta.
Perez echoed this concern, saying that due to this ongoing debate, she has been forced to take extra safety precautions around her home because of the racialized nature of the debate.
“This issue, unfortunately, equates immigration with crime,” said Perez. “To wrap immigration with crime is dangerously provocative.”
Their concerns were echoed at the May 9 meeting, in which many public commenters expressed fear of emboldened racism and xenophobia.
First District Supervisor Mick Gleason clarified that the issue that the Board seeks to address is not one that should affect the immigrant community as a whole, but people with a repeated criminal history.
“The issue is not hardworking immigrants who have overstayed their visas,” he said. “The issue is the hardcore illegal immigrant who has committed multiple crimes, and we need to get him out of our country and protect our citizens.”
Youngblood agreed that a generalized fear of local law enforcement is unfounded, as they are currently not responsible for enforcing immigration. He said that while there is an argument that law-abiding immigrants are fearful of calling the police because of their own immigration status, he has not encountered this issue.
“The truth is we haven’t deported anyone in 40 years. We don’t do that. The community and the farm workers here know that we don’t,” he said. “It’s a fear that the advocates have made up to sell their case. It’s simply not true.”
Many board members agreed that making a formal non-sanctuary statement was redundant and unnecessarily divisive statement; as Third District Supervisor Mike Maggard stated, “We are not now, nor have we ever been, a sanctuary county.”
However, they did agree with Nations’ assessment that it would be appropriate for the Board to formally oppose SB 54 specifically.
Gleason told the Sun that he believes that adopting a sanctuary status at the statewide level is a dangerous decision.
“I, for one, think it’s a horrible law,” he said. “I will oppose it as strongly as I possibly can, and I will look for any and all ways to help support our sheriff and protect our people.”
The Board has agreed to formally meet with the author of SB 54, California State Senator Kevin de León, to discuss the negative impact that the Board believes the bill will have on Kern County.
Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner, Perez, and County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop are scheduled to travel to Sacramento on May 17 to discuss the matter. Both Scrivner and Perez expressed hope that Youngblood would join them.