This California sheriff bucks trend, calls for ‘anti-sanctuary’ policies on immigration

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, shown here in his office, wants the county to be a "law and order" county and is asking county supervisors to declare Kern a "non-sanctuary" county.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

More than three years ago, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood made headlines when he defied the California Trust Act, a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown that restricts cooperation between local law enforcement officials and federal immigration agents. His stance riled the governor and California’s immigrant-rights groups.

Now, Youngblood is making headlines once again over immigration.

In two weeks, Youngblood will ask the county Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution that would declare Kern a “law and order” county and not a “sanctuary” county.


Specifically, he wants to ensure that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers can continue to identify felony detainees in Kern County jails who are in the country illegally so that they can be deported upon release.

Many California jurisdictions do not honor ICE requests to hold such inmates beyond their release dates, due to a federal court ruling and the threat of civil litigation. Youngblood, however, has avoided the issue by giving ICE agents office space within his jails so that they can identify felony inmates here illegally and take custody of them upon their release.

Youngblood said he feared that legislation now under consideration by California lawmakers would bar him from cooperating with ICE agents and so decided to offer up his resolution to county officials. He acknowledged that the move was “somewhat symbolic.”

“Sheriff’s deputies don’t enforce immigration laws and we don’t go on federal immigration sweeps, but we do have to allow our federal partners to do their job,” Youngblood said.

California has emerged as the national leader in the effort to oppose President Trump’s immigration policies. He has vowed a crackdown on those here illegally and has spoken of mass deportations. Numerous communities, including San Francisco and Santa Ana, have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” in an effort to protect and show solidarity with those here illegally.

But elsewhere, some jurisdictions around the country are pushing back against “sanctuary” policies, including a few corners of California.

Earlier this year, Shasta County officials considered but ultimately rejected a resolution that would declare the area anti-sanctuary. Communities in parts of the South as well as Midwest have expressed support for immigration laws.

The Trump administration has issued an executive order that threatens to strip such cities of federal grant money. San Francisco and Santa Clara counties have sued to stop the executive order.

Youngblood, a Republican and Vietnam vet, is a rare voice in a state whose Democrat-controlled Legislature has enacted laws allowing immigrants here illegally to drive, practice law and pay in-state college tuition.

In addition to opposing the California Trust Act, he has refused to sign paperwork for U visas, a federal immigration program that allows some victims of crime to stay in the country even if they are here illegally. He has also asked ICE officials to share data with police so patrol officers can determine whether the person they stop may be in the country illegally.

Not surprisingly, he has been heavily criticized by immigration advocates and activists who accuse him of setting his own immigration policy. They have compared him to Joe Arpaio, the former Arizona sheriff who was known for aggressive immigration enforcement policies that included workplace raids.

But at the same time, he has also earned the support of those Kern County residents who share his views and who have kept him in office since 2006.

Youngblood will propose the “non-sanctuary” status for Kern County on May 2.

Times staff writer Kate Linthicum contributed to this report.

For more Southern California news, follow @latvives on Twitter.


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12:30 p.m.: This post was updated with discussion of the scope of “sanctuary” policies in California and elsewhere.