Just as the California Senate is considering the strongest anti-deportation bill in the nation, the state’s sheriffs are giving the public cause to question whether their allegiance is to California communities or to Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
On Tuesday, Sheriff Scott Jones of Sacramento County will once again publicly ally himself with Donald Trump’s heinous deportation policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Jones plans to host Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan, the Trump administration official responsible for ramping up deportations, separating families at rates likely to surpass even Obama’s mass deportation machine.
Jones is not the only northern California sheriff to put his name behind the virulent nativism driving the Trump administration. A letter recently surfaced in which Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern officially pledged his support for Jeff Sessions, Trump’s attorney general and a man who built his Senate career as an advocate of ruthless anti-immigrant policies. Just today, Sessions made news for his anti-immigrant screed against cities that protect all their residents.
Sheriff Ahern supported Sessions in his capacity as head of the California State Sheriffs’ Association Political Action Committee, and co-signing the letter with Association President Donny Youngblood. This action raises serious questions not only about Ahern himself, but about whether California’s sheriffs share California’s values of justice, community, and equal treatment.
The California Values Act, which will soon come up for a vote before the Senate, would restrict state and local governments from using their resources for mass deportations. It would improve confidentiality policies at state agencies to protect immigrants. And it would make sure California’s schools and hospitals stay places for learning and healing, not sources of fear and sites of raids.
It is sadly no surprise that California sheriffs have emerged as one of the primary groups opposing this critical bill. Some sheriffs have argued that their opposition is based on concerns that the bill would prevent “harmless” communication between their offices and ICE; yet this strains credulity given the national political context. On Tuesday, California residents can expect Sheriff Jones and ICE Director Homan to attempt to intimidate California lawmakers into watering down legislation designed to protect immigrants and public safety.
Behind Trump’s nativism and the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the nation lies an extremist movement that has been working toward this moment for decades. This movement is intent on drastically lowering the number of immigrants living in this country in any way possible: through mass deportation policies, by making the U.S. so overtly hostile to immigrants that they are forced to leave, by repealing Constitutionally protected birthright citizenship, and through racist fear mongering. The movement’s founder and key figures in its leadership even researched and supported eugenics in the past.
One of the anti-immigrant movement’s primary policy goals in recent years has been to increase deportations by deputizing local police as immigration agents. Their strategy--and that of the Administration--has involved a cynical attempt to criminalize immigrants as a whole. This is precisely what the California Values Act seeks to prevent.
Given the direct influence of local law enforcement over this goal, nativist groups have been reaching out to gain their support. Leading this effort is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group with white nationalist roots that is so virulently anti-immigrant it is widely understood to be a hate group. FAIR has worked for years to develop a network of sheriffs capable of implementing the group's extremist, nativist policy goals.
There is evidence that Sheriff Jones may be part of this network. In 2015, he attended FAIR's annual event "Hold Their Feet to the Fire," intended for the group's most strident allies in Congress, law enforcement, and on the grassroots level. That year, known white nationalist Marcus Epstein was also in attendance. Epstein formerly helped lead the white nationalist campus network "Youth for Western Civilization."
The California State Sheriffs’ Association has also demonstrated its support for anti-immigrant goals by backing Jeff Sessions; moreover, several California sheriffs met with Sessions just prior to his confirmation. As a Senator, Sessions closely collaborated with FAIR and the other groups that comprise the anti-immigrant movement, serving as their most public ally on the Hill and championing their agenda.
Sheriff Jones's past activities and upcoming appearance with ICE suggest he supports the draconian deportation measures being implemented across the country. It is worth investigating whether any other California sheriffs have ties to the organized anti-immigrant movement--and demanding that they reject the anti-immigrant policies and nativist scapegoating being peddled by Donald Trump and the anti-immigrant movement alike.