The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office turned two individuals over to ICE in 2017. (The Associated Press file)
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The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office turned two individuals over to federal immigration authorities in 2017, an officer announced, ahead of a “sanctuary” county ordinance for undocumented immigrants that will go into effect this week.

Both individuals had been convicted of felonies — one for the transportation and sale of narcotics and the other for possession of heroin with intent to sell. The first person also had a prior conviction for “terrorist criminal threats,” Sheriff’s Office Corrections Capt. Duane Christian announced at the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

According to 2017 data, the sheriff’s office provided release dates for an additional five individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Local law enforcement also received requests to put holds on 26 individuals already in custody, but not all of those people are at risk of deportation. The sheriff’s office provides information to ICE about individuals on hold only if they have serious felony convictions.

Measure K, which voters passed in November with over 55 percent approval, will disallow the sheriff’s office from contacting ICE on its own accord. The ordinance will take effect on Thursday, Christian said.

“In the past, we could notify ICE about a release date,” Christian said. “We can’t do that with Measure K, but ICE can call and ask about release dates. And (anyone) would be entitled as a citizen to contact the jail to find a release date, and we’d provide that.”

The sheriff’s office can’t keep individuals past their release dates. The ordinance does require the sheriff’s office to report to the county, twice a year, on its communications with ICE. But as for enforcing the law, the sheriff can turn individuals over to ICE with or without Measure K.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members acknowledged the ordinance’s forthcoming implementation. First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said more than 2,000 county employees will need to sign forms and complete training on Measure K’s policies.

The ordinance forbids county employees from alerting ICE about an individual’s immigration status. It also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to allow certain deported immigrants a say in where their children end up.

“There are costs involved, but we’ll make sure (the training) happens for the proponents,” Bohn said.

In September, the county announced estimated costs of implementing Measure K that ranged from about $170,000 to over $300,000 a year. But those estimates, the Times-Standard reported, were based on a shoddy assumption that the sheriff’s office would turn five to 10 individuals per year over to ICE.

Historical data is closer to one or two individuals a year, and the latest 2017 statistics support that trend. The county never released updated cost estimates reflecting more accurate figures.

“The data shows that the number of (undocumented) people that are actually involved in crimes is pretty small,” said Eric Kirk, a local attorney who helped draft the language for the sanctuary ordinance. “Compare it with all of the arrests that have been made — I’m sure there were more undocumented people arrested, but not for these serious crimes.”

As far as deportation goes, Kirk said, the urge to kick immigrants out of the country is a “feel good” measure, not a strategically sound practice.

“We have punishments designated in our criminal justice system for those crimes,” he said. “There’s no reason to conflate immigration status with that. If you deport them, (Mexican drug cartels) will just send someone in whom (ICE) doesn’t know about. Don’t conflate a criminal with immigration enforcement unless there’s an immigration aspect of the crime, such as human trafficking.”

Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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