Politics

California Sheriff Resists the Resistance by Posting Inmate Releases

Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes talks about his success in finding creative loopholes in state 'sanctuary' law for local officials

Beginning this week, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department has begun including the time and date of release of jail inmates identified in a pre-existing database that is available online.

Undersheriff Don Barnes, who is running for the top job, said Wednesday on “The Laura Ingraham Show” that the change is an effort to improve communication with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials who have been stymied by California’s “sanctuary” law.

“That is the challenge that we are all facing in California,” he said. “We have to be compliant with the law that was passed, although we didn’t agree with it … So you have to be innovative.”

The law, known as the California Values Act, prohibits law enforcement officers from asking suspects about their immigration status and sharply limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Barnes (pictured above) said sheriffs considered challenging the law in court but decided to defer to the federal government.

Instead, he said, his agency is taking advantage of language in the statute that allows law enforcement officers to communicate information that is publicly available.

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Barnes said immigration advocates misstate the nature of local law enforcement’s relationship with ICE. Many suggest that sheriffs’ deputies were patrolling arm in arm with ICE agents.

“We weren’t doing that,” he said. “We’re just concerned and focused on criminal activity regardless [of] who’s committing those crimes, quite frankly.”

Barnes said California has undergone an enormous transformation in a short period of time.

Related: California’s Orange County Continues Trend of Bucking Sanctuary Policies

“Other times, I feel like I’m on a different planet, not just another county,” he said.

Barnes pointed to 2011, when activists sued California over prison overcrowding. State voters responded in 2014 by approving a ballot measure changing most drug and property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors. The front-line impact of that, he said, is that when law enforcement officers charge someone with possession of heroin or a commercial burglary, they must release him and not book him in to the jail.

“That’s incredibly impactful on the community,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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