L.A. County sheriff says he’s permanently banning transfers of inmates to ICE custody

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is seen in an undated photo. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is seen in an undated photo. (Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced Tuesday that he’s permanently banning the transfer of inmates to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody without a criminal warrant.

“We will encourage ICE to use the constitutionally sound judicial warrant system, used by all other law enforcement agencies in the nation, to effect legal transfers from Los Angeles County to federal custody,” the sheriff said in a written statement.

Villanueva had already placed a moratorium on inmate transfers from the county’s jails to ICE during the coronavirus pandemic, but he’s now making the ban permanent, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

“We will no longer transfer individuals to the custody of ICE based solely on a civil immigration detainer,” he said, explaining he came to the decision after learning of conditions at ICE detention facilities, including one in Adelanto.

ICE sends forms known as “detainers” to law enforcement agencies, asking that specific inmates be transferred to them upon their release, and the department judges whether they’re qualified for transfer based on their criminal history, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Villanueva sent an Aug. 3 letter to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors saying the department will only transfer people to ICE custody if it presents a criminal warrant, the Desert Sun reports.

After promising to end the “pipeline to deportation” during his 2018 campaign, Villanueva has removed ICE agents from jails, limited the criteria that allow the transfers and canceled the department’s participation in the State Criminal Alien Assistance grant program that required sending federal officials inmates’ places of birth, according to the Times.

“There is no greater threat to public safety than a million undocumented immigrants who are afraid to report crime, out of fear of deportation and having their families torn apart,” Villanueva said. “As the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I am responsible for everyone’s public safety, regardless of immigration status.”

ICE transfers in the county declined 47% from January through April compared with the same period last year, Villanueva told the paper in June.

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