Orange County Sheriff Rejects California ‘Sanctuary’ Law

County and city officials consider proposals to join DOJ in suing state

Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement question a man while his vehicle is searched
Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement question a man while his vehicle is searched / Getty Images

Officials in Orange County, the third most populous county in California, are revolting against the state's so-called sanctuary law that limits local law enforcement communication with the federal government.

The Orange County Sheriff's Department on Monday started publicly posting the release dates of all inmates through an existing online database.

The action makes public the release dates for all inmates, including illegal immigrants federal immigration authorities may want to detain for possible deportation.

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"The provision of the [state sanctuary law] increases the likelihood of dangerous offenders being released back into the community," the Orange County Sheriff's Department said in a statement. "The law, however, does not limit information that is available to the public."

Additionally, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson on Tuesday said he will ask his fellow supervisors to consider joining the Justice Department's lawsuit against the state's sanctuary law, officially titled the California Values Act.

"The state has put us in a predicament," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "I believe it's pretty clearly an unconstitutional predicament. Federal law is preeminent, but the federal government can't do their job without limited cooperation from local [authorities]."

"They're making it illegal for our officers to cooperate in any way, and that's just not right," he said. 

All elected officials and police officers take an oath to uphold and protect the federal and state Constitutions, he said.

"That's in conflict," he said. "We have a basic duty, and the state is in effect trying to poke the Trump administration in the eye and pick a fight and polarize people—all in the name of trying to help people but that's not what they are doing."

Last week, the small city of Los Alamitos, located within Orange County, made national news by launching a city ordinance to reject the sanctuary law. The ACLU has threatened to sue the city to force it to comply with the state law, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra pledged to continue to defend "attacks against the Values Act."

"Here in California, we respect the Constitution and follow the law," Becerra said in a statement in reaction to the Los Alamitos ordinance. "As I've said many times, our state laws work in concert with federal laws. That means all of the laws, including the Values Act. We are in the business of public safety, not deportation."

State Sen. Kevin de Leon, who wrote the law and is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) from the left, has accused cities opposed to the law of pushing a "racist" agenda.

"Pushing a racist and anti-immigrant agenda devoid of facts or supporting legal analysis is a pretty sad use of taxpayer resources, especially when it could result in crippling legal costs for cities that rush to join this dead-end effort," he told the Los Angeles Times in a written statement.

Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar on Friday created a GoFundMe page to help the city pay for any legal defense incurred in defending the ordinance. So far it has raised $4,125 in four days. 

Officials for other cities in Orange County, including Buena Park, Huntington Beach and Aliso Viejo, have expressed solidarity with Los Alamitos and are considering taking up similar anti-sanctuary measures.

Yorba Linda, another Orange County city, last week voted in favor of supporting an amicus brief backing the Justice Department's lawsuit against the state of California and its sanctuary law.

While the new law has angered many Republicans up and down the state of California, Orange County officials have the political leverage to buck the Democratic-run state legislature more there than anywhere else in the state.

Activists on both sides of the issue showed outside the Board of Supervisors to promote their views Tuesday morning.

Even though Orange County is known as a GOP bastion, the Republican voting-registration edge has sunk from a 20 percent lead in the 1990s to just 3.7 points. Independent voters stating no party allegiance account for nearly a quarter of all voters, according to the Orange County Register, which cited Registrar of Voter Statistics.

A majority of the county voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the first time it went for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1936.

Republicans still control politics at the county level: All five members of the board of supervisors are Republican.

Nelson said he's unsure how the rest of the supervisors on the board will respond to his proposal but says the response he's received to his idea from voters has been "overwhelmingly positive" from people of "all ethnicities."

"This is about common sense—local law enforcement has to work with federal law enforcement to enforce the country's law," he said.

Nelson supports the Orange County Sheriff's Department decision to publish the release dates of inmates but says he expects the state to take legal action to try to prevent it.

"It was a creative way for the sheriff to at least make sure there is communication" with the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement agency, he said. "But don't put it past the state of California to try to close down that loophole."

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens vehemently opposed the sanctuary law, officially known as the California Values Act, when the legislature was considering it last year and remains opposed to the law.

Numerous sheriff departments across the state negotiated with Gov. Jerry Brown to allow some communication for criminals who commit felonies and other serious crimes. While the negotiations resulted in several modifications to the bill, Hutchens said the final version still limits communication "in a way that puts the public at risk."

Hutchens also highlighted her department's work with federal ICE so far this year to notify the federal agency about the release of "serious offenders," which is allowed under the new state sanctuary law.

Since Jan. 1, when the new sanctuary rules because law, her department has cooperated with ICE on 168 inmates Hutchens said fell within the "serious offender" or other specifications that allow communication with federal immigration authorities under the law.

"SB 54 makes local law enforcement's job more difficult and requires bureaucratic processes that could allow dangerous individuals to fall through the cracks of our justice system," she said. "My department, however, remains committed to cooperating fully with federal authorities in all areas where I have discretion to remove serious criminals from our community."

Update: The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-0 to join the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state’s sanctuary law, officially titled the California Values Act.