PITTSBURG -- The Contra Costa County Sheriff's Office is finalizing a new immigrant detention policy that would decrease the number of deportations stemming from County Jail.
The new policy, announced at an immigration reform forum in Pittsburg on Thursday night, would give the Sheriff's Office more discretion over who it hands over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for detention and deportation.
"We are willing to take phone calls, we are willing to talk," Sheriff's Capt. Robert Nelson said to a diverse crowd of about 150. "We are trying to personalize our process the best we can."
Contra Costa County has one of the highest rates of immigration detention in California and the highest rate of noncriminal deportations in the Bay Area, according to the Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organization (CCISCO), which organized Thursday's forum and worked with the Sheriff's Office on the policy.
Currently, when an undocumented immigrant is arrested and booked into County Jail, the person's fingerprints are sent to ICE. Once the criminal case is resolved, whether it is dismissed or results in a jail sentence, ICE can order that the person remain jailed for 48 hours in what is called an "ICE hold" so that he or she can be picked up for possible deportation.
The Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities is among the government programs that triggers ICE holds. From the time it was created in 2008 through March, it has resulted in 2,098 deportations from Contra Costa County, including 774 immigrants who committed no crime, said Grisel Ruiz, attorney with the Immigration Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.
The cost, financially and emotionally, to immigrant families is devastating, advocates for reform said. People who have not lived in Mexico since they were babies are sent back to a country in which they have no friends or relatives.
Under the new policy by the Sheriff's Office, immigrants who are not charged with a crime, those whose cases are dismissed, and those convicted of certain misdemeanors and other lesser offenses, would not be subjected to ICE holds, Nelson said. Misdemeanors that would not be exempt from such holds include drunken driving and violating domestic violence restraining orders, he said.
Nelson said he could not be more specific, as a legal team is still reviewing the policy changes. He said it is unknown when it will be ready to be implemented, but the office is closely watching the TRUST Act to reform California's participation in the Secure Communities program, which is making its way through the Legislature.
High-ranking officers from the Pittsburg, Richmond and Brentwood police departments told the crowd Thursday that they already don't cooperate with ICE. They said they want immigrants to feel safe to report crimes without fear of deportation.
"We are here to provide police services regardless of your immigration status," Richmond police Capt. Bisa French said, and the audience erupted in applause.
The public is invited to two forums on national immigration reform with U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, on June 8. The first will be at 9:30 a.m. at St. Mark Catholic Church at 159 Harbour Way in Richmond, and the second will be at 11:30 a.m. at Queen of All Saints, 2390 Grant St. in Concord.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.