The Orange County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday it would end its agreement with federal immigration officials to hold some immigrant detainees in the county jail system.
Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said in a news release the action was being taken to free up space for better treatment of mentally ill inmates. He said the county jails had seen a 40% increase in mental health cases in the jails since 2015.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract ends in 2020, and Barnes said his department had informed the federal agency it would not be renewed. He said it’s likely those federal immigration detainees would be moved to facilities out of state.
Barnes stressed that he would continue to work with ICE “within the confines of SB-54 to ensure they are alerted to release of serious and violent offenders within our custody who have ICE detainers.”
Until now, Orange County has been among few large California counties to continue to work with ICE. Orange County long stood as an outlier in California, a state has becoming increasingly friendly to immigrants—including those who are in the country without legal status.
When state legislators drafted Senate Bill 54, a measure that positioned the Golden State as a “sanctuary” for those who are in the country without legal status, former Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens vehemently spoke out in opposition.
Wednesday’s announcement is just the latest move the sheriff’s office has taken to scale back its ties with ICE.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva earlier announced plans to put tighter limits on his department’s ties with ICE.
He said he was considering trimming the list of misdemeanors that could be cause for deportation and reviewing whether the Sheriff’s Department’s website should continue publishing release dates — information that ICE uses to stake out inmates and take them into federal custody.
Immigrants-rights groups that supported Villanueva’s campaign have been advising him on policy and are closely watching his next moves. From the other side of the debate, one local ICE official already has criticized the new sheriff for favoring policies that the agency thinks could enable immigrants with criminal records to evade justice.
Villanueva ran for office on a vow for the sheriff not to work with ICE. Barnes, by contrast, said his move was designed to improve treatment of those with mental illness.