How the Valley responds when ICE comes to town

All eight San Joaquin Valley counties said they do not assist with immigration enforcement

By Kaitlin Washburn

TULARE COUNTY – As immigration enforcement continues to ramp up throughout the United States, a California labor law firm warned employers about “silent” immigration raids targeting workplaces in the state.

In the San Joaquin Valley, immigration enforcement would especially impact undocumented farm workers, who are a significant part of the area’s robust agriculture industry.

All eight of the Valley’s counties said they do not assist with immigration enforcement, according to interviews with The Sun-Gazette and the sheriff departments for Kern, Kings, Tulare, Fresno, Merced, Madera, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties.

“That’s their business, just like we don’t ask them to help us with traffic stops,” said Tony Botti, public information officer for Fresno County Sheriff’s Department.

All eight sheriff departments said, unless a crime is committed, they are not involved when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducts immigration raids within their counties. The departments said local law enforcement is not responsible for enforcing immigration laws.

The Saqui Law Group, which partners with California Citrus Mutual (CCM), said in a notice to CCM’s members that ICE started to target California employers with undocumented employees.

According to the alert, Immigration authorities issued 3,000 notices of inspection requesting that workplaces provide their employees’ Form I-9s, documents proving someone is authorized to work in the U.S.

Alyssa Houtby, the director of public affairs for CCM, said the organization doesn’t expect immigration raids in the Valley. She said CCM put out the notice as a precautionary measure so that members understand what protocols to follow if immigration authorities shows up.

While ICE operates under federal laws, California has stood up against the agency’s harsh immigration policies.

Under the California Values Act, or Senate Bill 54, the use of local and state resources can’t be used for immigration enforcement. For example, local law enforcement is prohibited from automatically transferring someone in their custody to federal immigration authorities or holding someone in detention past their release date to assist immigration agents.

Kings County Sheriff Dave Robinson said SB 54, which was signed into law by former Governor Jerry Brown in 2017, limits how and when his department can communicate with ICE. Since they can no longer alert immigration authorities when someone in their custody is undocumented, it’s on ICE to check public arrest logs for the people they’re trying to apprehend.

“There are many nuances to the law,” Robinson said. “Some of it is frustrating, we should be able to communicate with ICE on career criminals.”

If ICE is conducting operations in their counties, all eight sheriff departments said they do not get involved unless a dangerous situation arises, like a gun fight, or if criminal activity is involved, such as if ICE finds stolen property.

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said in a statement that the county would only assist ICE if an emergency arises during an operation.

Kayla Serratto, a public information officer for the Madera County Sheriff’s Department, said the department only supports ICE if they need help with a criminal investigation. For example, if the agency is dealing with a human trafficking case, she said.

Joshua Clayton, with the Stanislaus County Sheriff, and Andrea Lopez, with the San Joaquin County Sheriff, also said those would be the only scenarios where they’d assist immigration authorities.

Daryl Allen, a public information officer with Merced County Sheriff, said aside from not notifying ICE about who they have in custody, the county doesn’t have any rules or policies on how to deal with immigration.

Botti, from the Fresno County Sheriff, said since ICE can no longer pick up undocumented people who are in the county’s custody, the agency now has to conduct larger raids, like showing up at workplaces.

“Instead of picking people up from the jail, they have to go out into the community and audit everyone,” Botti said.

In the notice to CCM members, Saqui Law Group provided employers instructions on what to do when ICE shows up at their business.

The law firm said employers should first confirm the identities of the immigration agents. If authorities are conducting a raid, the notice said ICE is not required to give advance notice, but agents must have a search warrant.

If they are carrying out an audit, ICE agents will give notices of inspection, which require 72-hour advanced notice. Employers are only required to share the Form I-9s for their employees, any further information requires a subpoena. The law firm advises employers to alert their employees about the audit.

ICE has targeted employees far more frequently than employers, according to an Associated Press article. Under President Donald Trump, the number of business owners and managers who are charged for employing undocumented workers has stayed nearly the same, while almost every other enforcement measure has increased.

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