The sheriff’s department of a conservative California county this week started publicly listing the names of inmates, a move meant to skirt the state’s law prohibiting local authorities from working with the feds to deport undocumented immigrants.
In January, California enacted Senate Bill 54 that barred local law enforcement from communicating with federal immigration officials, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Since then, Orange County has become the Republican resistance to Democrats in the largely liberal state. This week, Orange County even joined a Trump administration lawsuit against California over the law.
On Monday, the Orange County Sheriff Department put its “Who’s in Jail” database online for the public to see. It lists all people booked into jail—including undocumented immigrants.
“This is in response to SB-54 limiting our ability to communicate with federal authorities and our concern that criminals are being released to the street,” Orange County Undersheriff Don Barnes told The Orange County Register.
Annie Lai, director of University of California Irvine’s Immigrant Rights Clinic said the sheriff’s decision is “unfortunate.”
“California had a debate through the political process about SB 54.” said Lai. “Now we have local government officials helping ICE do its dirty work.”
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to join the Trump administration’s lawsuit against SB 54. Trump tweeted his support for Orange County’s decision on Wednesday, saying he “stands in solidarity with the brave citizens in Orange County defending their rights against California's illegal and unconstitutional Sanctuary policies.”
State Senator Kevin de León, a Democrat who sponsored SB 54, condemned the board’s decision to join the Trump administration’s lawsuit.
“This kind of obsessive immigrant bashing is embarrassing to the county and its residents, and seems designed to court the approval of a racist President and his cronies,” he said in a statement.
“What we see in OC is a combination of local, conservative political elite and outside organizations who have been documented as having ties to white supremacist groups trying to manufacture a local fight over a wedge issue,” said Lai of UC-Irvine.
Lai pointed to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, whose legal affiliate will join Orange County in court.
“We’re lining up cities to join us with amicus briefs,” Christopher Hajec, the head of Immigration Reform Law Institute, told The OC Register.
One of those cities may be Los Alamitos, a suburban town in Orange County that was the first city in California to break from the state’s sanctuary law: Los Alamitos City Council voted last week to opt out of SB 54. People who attended the meeting cheered “America first” and “Great American patriot,” according to local reports. The exemption must undergo a second vote in April before it becomes law.
Immigrants make up about 30 percent of Orange County’s population, according to census data. Garcia said the county has a substantial amount of Latino, Asian, and African immigrants.
The conservative groundswell in California could also be a campaign strategy, critics say.
“The elected officials that are pushing this are running for higher office in 2018. They are trying to create scapegoating tactics that point to immigrants as a source of problems,” said Carlos Perera, policy director at Resilience Orange County.
For instance, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson is running for Congress and has been on Fox News supporting the lawsuit against the state. Barnes, the undersheriff, is running to be sheriff.
“It’s not just a backlash. It’s a very well manufactured campaign of hate,” said Perea.