As immigration policy has taken front and center over the past few weeks, debate continues and questions from the public proliferate. As your sheriff, I do not determine immigration policy, and I will leave discussion on the merits of proposals to the Congress and the President. However, I want to clarify the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s role in the enforcement of immigration law.
Enforcing immigration law is a federal government responsibility. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department does not play a role in the enforcement of these laws, and it is not part of our primary mission. As we patrol our communities, deputies are focused on criminal violations of state and local law. We enforce these laws equally, without bias, and without regard for one’s immigration status. In carrying out our duties, we do not ask the immigration status of suspects, witnesses, or those who call to report crimes. To reiterate: The Sheriff’s Department will provide for your safety and respond to your call for service without concern for your immigration status.
Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers carry out their duties in our communities, but the Sheriff’s Department does not play a role in their day-to-day work. We have a similar relationship with the California Highway Patrol. CHP takes responsibility for traffic enforcement on the highways that run through our communities. The Sheriff’s Department is not statutorily charged with that function or budgeted with the financial resources to perform such a role. Similarly, ICE is legally charged and funded to enforce immigration law. Tasking my deputies with immigration enforcement would be a duplication of efforts and a diversion of our scarce resources.
There is a significant way OCSD works with ICE, and that is with regard to our custody operations. Those who are booked into our jails are screened for their immigration status. ICE is notified of undocumented individuals in our custody who have been convicted of serious offenses, such as murder or rape. Once one of these convicted criminals serves their sentence, ICE is able to take them into their custody. This practice has been in place for a number of years and is in keeping with California’s TRUST Act, which allows for cooperation with ICE on specified serious offenses.
In 2016, 57,123 people were booked into our county jail from various law enforcement agencies. Deputies identified 391 inmates who would qualify under the TRUST Act for an ICE detainer. These individuals represent less than 1 percent of total jail bookings. Their charges ranged from homicide, rape and possession of weapons, to driving while under the influence.
Rhetoric on immigration can be emotional, confusing and, at times, contain misinformation. Do not let misleading headlines distort the reality of local law enforcement’s role. In simple terms, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department does not participate directly in field-level immigration enforcement, but we work with federal partners through our custody operations to ensure violent offenders are held accountable for all charges they face.
These offenders pose a significant risk to our communities and removing them is consistent with the department’s mission to enhance public safety for all Orange County residents. These offenders do not discriminate in who they perpetrate their crimes against, and we must not hesitate to take advantage of every opportunity to keep them out of our neighborhoods.
Sandra Hutchens is the sheriff of Orange County.
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