Two Sheriffs Admit Their Departments Violated California's Sanctuary Laws

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The sheriff in Santa Clara, CA, has acknowledged that her staff “mistakenly” allowed federal deportation officers to enter the city’s jail to interview four inmates—a violation of the statewide sanctuary law that restricts local law enforcement from cooperating in deportation efforts.


The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office allowed deportation officers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to interview four different inmates on March 7 and 8, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. After learning about the incidents, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told the paper that her staff “reevaluated and strengthened the clearance procedures in which all law enforcement agencies are permitted to enter our facilities.”

Smith said none of the inmates interviewed were detained by ICE.

The revelation in Santa Clara raises questions about how state officials will enforce and punish municipalities that violate California’s new “sanctuary state” laws, which limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

What’s clear is that California needs to provide better guidelines and more training for law enforcement agencies if even police departments who have had their own sanctuary policies for years are making mistakes. (Santa Clara County has had sanctuary laws in place since 2010.) This seems especially critical as some of the state’s more conservative municipalities also begin to defy its sanctuary laws. 

San Francisco sheriff Vicki Hennessy also apologized this month for allowing ICE agents in her jails. The ICE agents were able to interview one of two inmates they requested to speak to without lawyers being present, according to according to KBCW.

“My staff made a mistake and I have to hold myself accountable,” Hennessy told the Chronicle. “I apologize on behalf of the department. I feel embarrassed by it. I’ve taken steps to make sure it never happens again.”

Sheriff Hennessy said it appeared ICE was “testing our defenses and they found some weak points.”

Senior staff writer