In an effort to get cities and counties to help federal immigration authorities deport unauthorized immigrants, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions Thursday said San Bernardino and three other cities must give federal agents access to jails and notify them when unauthorized immigrants are about to be released in order to be considered for crime-fighting grants.
In a letter to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, the Justice Department said the city is qualified to receive a grant under the agency's Public Safety Partnership program, which provides training and technical assistance to localities beset by high levels of violent crime. But the letter also said Justice "is reviewing your jurisdiction’s commitment to reducing violent crime stemming from illegal immigration."
It goes on to tell Burguan that "to aid the Department in its review," he must answer three questions.
The letter asks whether his department has policies that allow federal agents "access to any correctional or detention facility in order to meet with an alien."
The letter asks if Burguan provides "at least 48 hours’ advance notice" to immigration authorities before releasing an unauthorized immigrant. The focus, Sessions has said, is serious criminals. But the Trump administration has said it intends to target all people living in the U.S. illegally for deportation.
Burguan was perplexed.
"I mean, quite frankly, a lot of those issues don’t even impact us," he told KPCC.
"The city of San Bernardino does not operate a jail," Burguan added. "Everybody that we arrest goes to the county jail system."
He noted police officers in San Bernardino don’t stop people based solely on their immigration status, but do provide backup to immigration agents when they conduct raids in the city.
San Bernardino is not a sanctuary city, said the chief.
The third question posed to Burguan - police agencies in San Bernardino, Stockton, Baltimore and Albuquerque raised serious concerns among immigrant rights activists in California.
It asked if San Bernardino will "honor a written request from DHS [Department of Homeland Security] to hold a foreign national for up to 48 hours beyond the scheduled release date, in order to permit DHS to take custody of the foreign national?" Immigrations and Customs Enforcement – or ICE – is part of DHS.
No agency in the state currently complies with such requests, said attorney Emi MacLean of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
"California has not honored ICE requests to detain people with good reason: it’s against the law," she said. Multiple federal courts have ruled that holding unauthorized immigrants in jail beyond their release date is unconstitutional, said MacLean.
The Justice Department sent the same letter to the police chiefs in Stockton, Baltimore and Albuquerque.
This story has been updated.