Alameda County sheriff discusses immigration enforcement during lively town hall

HAYWARD, Calif. (KTVU) -- Hundreds of people gathered Friday night to ask Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern about his immigration policies and degree of cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and deportation proceedings of illegal immigrants who fall into custody.

The meeting, which lasted over 2 1/2 hours and was sponsored by People Power, grew heated at times as the sheriff took questions from the audience.  People Power  is a community action group formed by the ACLU.

Sheriff Ahern said his department does comply with ICE requests for information about undocumented immigrants and provides the dates they are released from the Alameda County Jail.

He said his legal counsel said he had to respond to ICE requests for information or the department's federal funding would be in jeopardy.

Stacy Suh, who lives in Oakland, challenged the sheriff.

"Will you change your policy to end your complicity with deportation?" Suh asked.

"We disagree that no one should be deported," Ahern said. "I believe that people who are evil and committing violent crimes should go before a deportation hearing."

"We don't know all of the criminal history of individuals that are in our custody or crimes they commit in other states," Ahern said. "We only have documentation from California and all I'm asking is ICE be able to review the criminal history of those individuals."

"How do you expect our communities to trust law enforcement when you are completely complicit with deportations?" said Malena Mayorga, who says she works with immigrants through the Alameda County Rapid Response Network.

Julia Mass, a senior attorney with the ACLU, said that the sheriff's interpretation of the law was inaccurate. Mass says San Francisco and Santa Clara counties do not inform ICE.

"All the federal statute says an office or entity can't prevent other people from voluntarily providing notice about citizenship and immigrant status," Mass said. "Nowhere in it does it say that the sheriff's office has to tell ICE when people are being released."

Dozens of people lined up to ask questions.

Many said the sheriff's policies have spawned fear in the community. Some referred to a recent photo that went viral on social media showing an Alameda County deputy confronting a fruit vendor.

Organizers tried to keep order, but at times it became a shouting match.

One group brought in a person dressed as President Donald Trump as they chanted, "No raids, no deportation, no Fascist USA."

Some speakers said the sheriff's department was doing positive things for immigrant children in the community.

Superintendent of San Lorenzo Schools Fred Brill spoke in favor of the deputies in his schools. He said he originally wanted the deputies out of his district, but said they have worked to forge strong, positive partnerships.

There also were concerns about Alameda County's participation in Urban Shield, a SWAT team competition which the sheriff hosts.

John Lindsay-Poland of the American Friends Service Committee said that Sheriff Ahern had invited the Mexican federal police one year, a move he said that sent a bad message to the community and inspired fear in some immigrant residents.

Amber Akemi Piatt, who lives in Alameda County, called on the sheriff to re-examine his policy and draft new language that would be more sensitive to the community's concerns.

Ahern took the documents and told Piatt he would be glad to read through them and follow up on her request, as well as others who called for him to adopt the ACLU's recommended immigration policies.

The sheriff said he agrees with a part of a California bill SB54 which seeks to keep ICE out of schools, churches and courthouses. He said he would take a look at the people's proposals and agreed to continue the discussion.

Some left saying they have little faith things will change. Others said the meeting provided more clarity on the sheriff's perspective.

By KTVU reporter Jana Katsuyama.