Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones asked President Trump's immigration chief for help fighting California's so-called "sanctuary state" bill weeks before the two hosted a town hall meeting in March on immigration enforcement that drew hundreds of people and erupted in protests.
In a March 13 email to Thomas D. Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Jones proposed holding the joint conference, saying the presence of a high-ranking official could make statewide news and change public opinion on Senate Bill 54. The legislation, vehemently opposed by Republican lawmakers and sheriffs including Jones, would prevent police and sheriff's departments from enforcing federal immigration laws.
"I know this is a big ask, but I really feel that there is a showdown coming between the federal government and California on many fronts, and truly believe we could together head off that showdown on his particular bill," Jones wrote.
The letter was obtained by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and a coalition of other immigrant rights groups whose members are arguing that the sheriff misrepresented his intention for the March 28 town hall. Speaking to roughly 300 people at the event, which was held in a Sacramento gym, Jones said he wanted to host the forum to provide facts, not change minds, and said he was there not as a politician, but in his public safety role.
The sheriff said he and Homan wanted to dispel what he called "misconceptions" about how sheriffs and federal immigration agents collaborate on cases and share information.
Requests to Jones' office for comment were not answered on Friday.
Senate Bill 54, introduced by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit, with some exceptions, state and local agencies from using their facilities, property, equipment or personnel to detain, question or arrest immigrants.
Jones, a staunch critic of illegal immigration who lost a race for Congress in November, has said that his office has $4.8 million in ICE contracts. But he says his ardent opposition to the legislation stems from public safety concerns including diminished collaboration between law enforcement agencies, not potential financial losses to his department.
In the email to Homan, the sheriff said he was happy to have become "the face of the anti-SB 54 campaign" because "I can speak intelligently and factually about what a disaster the bill would be."
He said their joint conference could focus on making it clear that federal immigration agents would be going into communities not to arrest every law-abiding immigrant, but people who fit ICE's priorities, such as criminals.
"And that the best way to prevent wide nets being cast in the communities is for law enforcement to cooperate with ICE where the criminals already are — the jails," Jones wrote.
Angela Chan, policy director at Asian Law Caucus, which was among organizations that sought public records on the meeting, said the email did not come as a surprise given Jones' track record on immigration enforcement and his department's financial ties to ICE.
"But it is disheartening that he continues to go down this route," she said.