As fires continue to rage across Northern California, Sonoma County Sheriff Rob Giordano has been forced to divert time and attention away from protecting his community in order to stem the tide of what he calls the “misinformation” coming from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
In a lengthy statement posted to the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page on Thursday night, Giordano condemned ICE for issuing a recent press release which criticized Sonoma County officials and insinuated their non-cooperation with the agency may have somehow contributed to the ongoing wildfires that have scorched the region.
“Once again,” ICE wrote, “a non-cooperative jurisdiction has left their community vulnerable to dangerous individuals and preventable crimes.”
ICE lodged a detainer against Jesus Gonzalez with Sonoma County jail officials on October 16, following his arrest on felony charges for maliciously setting fire to a property. This is especially troubling in light of the massive wildfires already devastating the region. Over the past year, ICE has lodged detainers against Mr. Gonzalez after four separate arrests by Sonoma County on various felony and misdemeanor charges. ICE was never notified of Mr. Gonzalez’ various releases. Additionally, Mr. Gonzales has been returned to his home country of Mexico on two separate occasions. The residents of Sonoma County, and the state of California, deserve better than policies that expose them to avoidable dangers. Non-cooperation policies – now enshrined in California state law – ensure only one thing: criminals who would otherwise be deported will be released and left free to reoffend as they please.”
In his response, Sheriff Giordano called ICE’s release “inaccurate, inflammatory, and [damaging to] the relationship we have with our community.” He then gave a carefully argued refutation of ICE’s allegations, insisting at one point that “We don’t know if these fires were arson or caused by another source. There is no indication that Gonzalez had anything to do with these fires and it appears highly unlikely.”
This is not the first time Giordano has had to step in to put a stop to the misleading narrative surrounding Gonzalez and the fires. At a Tuesday press conference—one day before ICE’s statement was released—Giordano responded to reports from far-right outlets such as Breitbart and InfoWars that Gonzalez had started the fires, saying emphatically “I wanted to kill that speculation right now, so we didn’t have things running too far out of control.”
Regardless of whether ICE’s inflammatory statement was deliberately meant to link Gonzalez to the wildfires, or simply take advantage of an ongoing tragedy by targeting an undocumented immigrant and smearing local law enforcement, Sheriff Giordano’s response was unequivocal.
“ICE attacked the Sheriff’s Office in the midst of the largest natural disaster this county has ever experienced,” he said. “Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, many people have lost their homes and 23 people have died from this firestorm. ICE’s misleading statement stirs fear in some of our community members who are already exhausted and scared.”
Earlier this week, California Senator Kamala Harris tweeted that ICE had promised not to conduct immigrant enforcement actions in the affected wildfire regions.
It seems, however, that ICE is more than willing to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment and resentment for local law enforcement while they wait for the flames to die down.