Marin County sheriff under renewed pressure to cease all cooperation with ICE

Marin County's sheriff is under renewed pressure to cease all cooperation with ICE.

Tuesday evening, falling deportation numbers were presented at a public hearing, but failed to satisfy critics.

They want no inmates turned over to ICE at the Marin County Jail. 

One speaker read aloud, a list of children who have died in DHS detainment at the border.  

"She thought she might get her first pair of shoes, she died in ICE custody, she was 7," he said somberly, as Sheriff Robert Doyle listened a few feet away.

The uproar over family separation and incarceration has only intensified calls on Sheriff Doyle to shun Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

A policy change Doyle made in November 2018 has already shown results.

Instead of routinely notifying ICE of undocumented inmates, the jail only does so with those charged or convicted of serious or violent crimes.

That has brought releases down dramatically.

In 2017, ICE picked up 68 people at the jail, and 72 in 2018.

So far this year, they've picked up 13, which on pace to cut the annual tally by half or more. 

"In the criminal justice system, what we have done in the past seven months is outstanding," said Lucia Martel-Dow, advocate for immigrants at Canal Alliance in San Rafael. 

But those who want zero cooperation offered Doyle no praise.  

"He actually could refuse to respond to ICE, refuse to let them into the jail, refuse to share his entire booking log but he doesn't," said Lisa Bennett of ICE Out of Marin.

The community was galvanized two years ago by the case of Hugo Mejia, arrested with other drywall installers while at a job at Travis Air Force Base. 

Mejia is a family man from San Rafael, involved in his neighborhood and children's schools, and has no criminal record. 

He was freed after seven months, following public outcry and pressure from lawmakers. 

Critics say due process has has eroded even more since then. 

"In the last month I have several people come in and they're just scared to death, and I can see it in their faces," said Jose Varela, Marin County Public Defender.

In California, when law enforcement cooperates with ICE, it must hold an annual  hearing to share the data. 

But with the border situation so heated, Tuesday's session went well beyond numbers. 

A long line of speakers implored the Board of Supervisors to support undocumented residents.    

"It would break my heart if my mom will get deported," said one girl, barely tall enough to see over the lectern. "We have to realize that our decision to participate with ICE is a decision to be a part of the atrocities," said Frank Shinneman, Chairman of the ACLU Marin. 

County supervisors, expressed distress over federal immigration policy, but said they are inclined to let the sheriff make his own decisions. 

They acknowledged they don't like handing inmates to ICE.

"I would be more than happy to see them stay in our jail if they need to be in jail- rather than be released to ICE - and if that's a funding issue then you should tell us that," said Supervisor Dennis Rodoni.

For his part, the sheriff told KTVU he is aware of controversy around Customs and Border Patrol, but said he can't control those practices.    

"Some of the changes we already made were a response to the current administration and what they were doing," Doyle told KTVU.

He notes the 13 people turned over to ICE were guilty of serious or violent crimes, if  not in Marin, then elsewhere within the past five years.  

"I've got a responsibility for public safety and what about the victims?" said Doyle. "That's 13 people victimized and some of the people had been arrested as many as 16 times in Marin County."  

Activists are demanding the sheriff stop posting booking information online for ICE to see, and stop allowing ICE into the booking area to pick up inmates when they're released. 

Doyle insists his practices are in line with other Bay Area counties.