Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests of undocumented individuals remained relatively low in Merced County for another year in 2021, according to data presented by law enforcement during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Only two undocumented immigrants were arrested by ICE following their release from the Merced County jail last year, the Sheriff’s Office reported.
That’s up from just one individual arrested by ICE in 2020, but down significantly from the 12 individuals arrested in 2019 and 40 in 2018.
Per California law, the Sheriff’s Office annually discloses the nature and number of the department’s interactions with ICE as required by the TRUTH (Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds) Act.
Any time a jurisdiction allows ICE access to an individual, the act requires a public forum to be held the following year.
Undersheriff Corey Gibson gave the report in the absence of Sheriff Vern Warnke, who typically presents during the TRUTH forum but had a scheduling conflict, Gibson said.
Tuesday’s forum also revealed that a lower number of detainer requests were sent by ICE to the Sheriff’s Office last year than previous years. A total of 45 detainer requests were sent to the county jail in 2021, compared to 160 in 2020, 138 in 2019 and 214 in 2018.
Detainer requests are issued by ICE to local law enforcement when an arrested person’s fingerprints are flagged by the Department of Homeland Security as potentially belonging to an undocumented immigrant.
Local law enforcement does not place a hold on a person with a detainer unless it is related to a federal warrant.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not participate in any joint agency operations with immigration authorities,” Gibson said Tuesday. “The Sheriff’s Office does not conduct investigations regarding a citizen’s immigration status whether on patrol or in the corrections environment.”
Of the 45 detainer requests sent by ICE last year, 41 were for individuals of Hispanic or Latino descent. The remaining four were Asian or Pacific Islander, Gibson reported.
Numbering 20 out of the 45 detainer requests, nearly half were issued for individuals aged 31-40 years old. Fifteen detainer requests were for people aged 18-30, eight for individuals aged 41-50, one for a 51-60-year-old and one for a 61-70-year-old.
Booking charges for individuals subject to detainer requests included 11 alcohol-related offenses, eight nonviolent crimes and seven domestic violence charges.
Other crimes preceding 2021’s detainer requests included two assault and battery charges, two sex crimes, two weapons-related offenses and one manslaughter charge, Gibson said.
The Sheriff’s Office could not be reached for comment concerning why detainer requests and subsequent arrests have dropped locally in recent years.
Little public comment
Prior TRUTH forums since 2019 have looked largely similar to Tuesday’s meeting, with the Sheriff’s Office reporting the past year’s data and describing how ICE’s activities in Merced County work.
Each year, the sheriff has stated that his office does not collaborate with ICE on operations or supply equipment and personnel, nor conduct investigations into an individual’s immigration status.
Inmates are not held without a federal warrant and ICE interviews do not take place within the county jail, Warnke has stressed.
In contrast to previous years that have drew significant protest from the public about how undocumented individuals are treated locally or generally in the US, Tuesday’s TRUTH forum drew just one resident comment.
During previous years, residents have criticized the forum’s format. The annual meeting does not facilitate back-and-forth engagement between officials and residents, but rather is intended to allow law enforcement to give a report and for the public to comment. Some critics have said this presents a missed opportunity for dialogue.
County officials on Tuesday, as they have in previous years, emphasized the nature of the meeting prior to the Sheriff’s Office’s presentation.
“It is not meant to be a back and forth between the public, the Board (of Supervisors) and law enforcement,” County Management Analyst Lindsey Johnson said of the forum before Gibson gave his report.
Nevertheless, only one attendee spoke during the public comment portion of the forum. Resident Gloria Sandoval expressed her disappointment that she was the only one to speak, and asked to board whether the forum had been well advertised.
“I’m really sorry that I may be the only one that testifies here, which I’m really upset about because I really think our community has always had a lot of interest in this particular subject,” Sandoval said.
Still, the limited public input mirrored last year’s meeting, when the TRUTH forum failed to draw any comment from the public at all.
Merced County’s 2022 ICE statistics won’t be released until next year.