.ICE in Marin: sheriff defends cooperation with immigration authorities

Marin County Sheriff Jamie Scardina continues his discretionary cooperation with federal immigration law enforcement despite pushback from the county supervisors and community members.

In 2023, the sheriff’s office provided the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with information about 13 people booked into the county jail for serious or violent felonies, down from 33 people in the previous year, Scardina said at a forum on March 5.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors held the annual community forum, as required by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act—state legislation passed in 2016 that mandates local government to receive and consider public comment if local law enforcement allows ICE access to an individual in the past year.

Supervisors Mary Sackett and Dennis Rodoni, as well as several community members, expressed their disapproval that the sheriff shares information with ICE about individuals who have been arrested, although not convicted of a crime.

“I am very much concerned,” Marin resident Johnson Reynolds said. “The issue is ‘charged but not convicted’… Unless the person has gone through the due process and is actually being convicted, there’s no reason to communicate with ICE about that person.”

Only one person, a Larkspur man, spoke in favor of the sheriff’s policy, advocating for more data “to understand the extent to which illegals contribute to crime in Marin and what to do about it.”

Scardina showed no regret for his voluntary cooperation with ICE. During the sheriff’s presentation, he described the alleged offense of one of the 13 people caught in the information-sharing net.

“We arrested him with two kilos of fentanyl,” Scardina said. “When you break it down to two milligrams, a lethal dosage of fentanyl, that’s over a million lethal doses that we took off the streets in Marin County. That’s enough to kill San Francisco and most of Marin County. So, I don’t feel bad.”

After the forum, Scardina told me about another case of a person in Marin’s jail who was of interest to ICE. In this grisly account, the suspect dragged a woman by the hair into a vehicle, drove drunk and then sodomized the victim against her will. The individual’s release date was provided to ICE; however, Scardina admits that he doesn’t know whether the person was tried or convicted for the alleged crimes.

The sheriff’s office reduced its cooperation with ICE and modified its policies after the 2017 passage of Senate Bill 54, which prevents state and local resources from being used to assist federal immigration enforcement. SB 54 also states that law enforcement can only cooperate with immigration authorities when a person has been arrested for or convicted of any of the serious crimes specifically listed in the bill.

Scardina’s critics say there is much room for improvement. While his predecessor, Sheriff Robert Doyle, stopped allowing ICE agents into the jail several years ago, Scardina has not implemented any recent changes.

Rodoni pointed out that he is uncomfortable with the sheriff’s practice of notifying ICE about the release dates of people who were convicted of a serious crime and then served their time. Indeed, one of the 13 people in the jail whom ICE received information about was released after completing their sentence.

The other 12 left custody without being convicted of an offense, according to Sgt. Adam Schermerhorn of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. Six were released on bail, two on their own recognizance, and four on court-ordered release. The sheriff’s office does not track whether these individuals were later convicted or if ICE detained them.

ICE initially learns that a person of interest is in the Marin County Jail soon after the booking process. The arrestee’s fingerprints are sent to the Department of Justice, and that federal agency shares the information with ICE.

The jail then receives a fax from ICE with a request for notification of the individual’s release date or an immigration detainer. The sheriff’s office will only hold an individual if the detainer is signed by a judge, which is very rare, Schermerhorn said.

Since the sheriff doesn’t allow ICE agents in the jail, the booking sergeant typically notifies the immigration authorities of a release by calling them on the phone while the person changes into their civilian clothing and staff processes the release paperwork. Schermerhorn said it usually occurs just a few minutes before the person leaves the facility. 

That begs the question, how does an ICE agent arrive within minutes?

“Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) San Francisco does not have an office location in Marin County,” Denise Hauser, an ICE public affairs officer, said in an email.

As it turns out, agents don’t actually need that phone call from the booking sergeant or to be located in an office near the jail. A public website maintained by the sheriff’s office lists every inmate in the Marin County Jail, with their release date added once it is scheduled. The jail releases inmates twice daily, at 7:30am and 7:30pm.

Clearly, the Marin County Sheriff’s Office makes it easy for ICE to pick up any undocumented immigrant upon release from the jail, even if the person was booked for a single misdemeanor and never held to the charge.

“There are some counties, aka San Francisco, that don’t call ICE for anything,” Scardina said. “There are counties—I’ve talked to my peer sheriffs—that do far more than we do.”

Lisa Bennett, a long-time immigration reform activist who has kept track of Scardina’s and his predecessor’s cooperation with ICE, believes the policy is steeped in racism.

“If you support the criminal justice system, then let it do its job,” Bennett said. “People serve their time and technically pay their debt to society. But people who are considered ‘other than us’ are subject to further punishment. In Marin, that’s brown people just because of where they’re from. Most of those 13 people [whom ICE received notification about] were from Central America.”

Rodoni told me that he is also concerned about potential deportations—especially to certain countries—that arise from the sheriff’s cooperation with ICE.

“I’m not comfortable with deporting someone who may be guilty or even someone convicted,” Rodoni said. “They may go back to a country where they have no human rights, and they could be being taken care of in our [judicial] system here.”

Although Rodoni would like the sheriff to continue improving his policy, he did note that a few of the 13 people on the ICE notification list had been in jail several times. One individual racked up 18 stays, and another had 12.

It doesn’t appear that Scardina has plans to reduce his cooperation with ICE anytime soon. While Scardina said he’s willing to speak with anyone about his policy, the sheriff remains entrenched in his position.

“I’m in the business of public safety,” Scardina said. “I’m going to do my part to tell ICE that this person has just been arrested. I’m the sheriff of Marin County, and I don’t want that individual to be back in our community. I have to try to keep people safe here.”

Nikki Silverstein
Nikki Silverstein is an award-winning journalist who has written for the Pacific Sun since 2005. She escaped Florida after college and now lives in Sausalito with her Chiweenie and an assortment of foster dogs. Send news tips to [email protected].

5 COMMENTS

  1. Good job , If they have entered the country illegally , or overstayed their visa ICE should be notified.

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  2. Great work, Sheriff. I and most of the normal people in Marin (few that we may be) support you 100%. Whether an arrestee is convicted or not, done their time or not, the FACT is they are here illegally and need to deal with ICE.
    When Rodoni and Sacket are personally effected by illegal alien (the actual term as used in the US Code) criminals amongst us, perhaps then they will get off their high horses.

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  3. Scardina’s job description does not include monitoring the immigration status of every inmate in the county. That is not in any sheriff dept. jurisdiction.
    Also, dig this-it is not a crime to enter this country, apply for asylum and stay until your case is heard.
    No human is “illegal”. What was Mexico is now California.
    Let’s stop using someone’s immigration status to justify our racism.
    And Scardina can stop doing ICE’ dirty work. He’s got enough of his own.

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    • Your so right , apply for asylum, then enter the U.S. through the proper ports of entry.

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  4. Thank you for another great article Nikki! There is no reason for law enforcement to collaborate with ICE in our (or any) county. Right now, our lawmakers nationwide are considering writing extreme anti-immigrant policies and I thank the supervisors for questioning how this plays out in our community, and defending our values – I encourage them to protect asylum rights by REJECTING any attempts to restrict asylum and enact policies that would harm our immigrant neighbors, such as collaborating with ICE.

    The right to seek asylum is protected by international and domestic law, and it’s a myth that immigration leads to an increase in crime. A study from Stanford University on incarceration rates from 1850-2020 found that immigrants are 30% LESS LIKELY to be incarcerated than white ‘legal’ citizens. Data from Texas shows that the criminal conviction rate of immigrants without legal status was about 50% LOWER than ‘native-born citizens.’

    Make no mistake: the sheriff’s collaboration with ICE is harmful, ineffective, and will hurt families who have long been part of our communities as well as people coming to the United States for the first time.

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