Two years ago, as others in California were limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department welcomed them into its jail, says the Los Angeles Times. Sheriff Margaret Mims gave U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unrestricted access to databases and private rooms to interview inmates. She reorganized release times so agents could easily pick up people who had served their sentences. The policy sparked outrage among immigrant rights groups, who called it a pipeline from incarceration to immigrant detention, one that they said disproportionately and unfairly affects Latinos. “We are not anti-immigrant for working with ICE,” Mims said in defense of the approach. “We are anti-criminal activity.”
That belief is held by many of California’s 58 county sheriffs who will be on the front lines of implementing the landmark “sanctuary state” law, which takes effect on Jan. 1. The law was a sharp rebuke from Democrats to President Trump’s call for more deportations. It is designed to limit the people that California law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. But its impact will largely rely on county sheriffs whose departments play a vital role in immigration enforcement — and most of whom, like Mims, were opposed to its enactment. As keepers of jails across the state, sheriffs will retain control over who has access to the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of people booked into their facilities every day. As elected officials, many represent conservative or rural areas, where voters might be more likely to oppose the new state law.