Sanctuary ordinance’s costs, effects warned

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – Several Humboldt County supervisors and county law enforcement officials oppose a sanctuary ordinance initiative, saying the proposed ordinance is unnecessary, will be costly to implement and could hinder crime-fighting efforts.

A financial analysis of Measure K, a Sanctuary ordinance for the November election ballot, was discussed by supervisors at their Sept. 4 meeting.

According to a written staff report and a presentation by Assistant County Administrative Officer Chris Shaver, the proposed Sanctuary ordinance’s requirements will trigger a range of administrative tasks that could cost more than $300,000 a year.

At its most basic level, the proposed Sanctuary ordinance forbids county departments and agencies from assisting in federal immigration law enforcement. County administrators have indicated that staff training along with tracking, reporting and monitoring interactions with federal enforcers will create new expenses for a range of county departments and the county’s Human Rights Commission.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that in addition to the ordinance’s “unintended consequences,” she’s concerned about the costs. County staff estimates that the staff and administration costs will range from $171,000 to $312,000 and Fennell believes the high end of the cost scale is more realistic.

“It just seems like that would be a tremendous burden and that’s going to come completely out of the General Fund,” she said.

Supervisor Mike Wilson said he’d gotten an email from a proponent of the Sanctuary initiative indicating that the county is already carrying out various administration tasks related to SB 54, the state-level sanctuary law.

Asked by Wilson about the overlap, Shaver said many of the proposed ordinance’s directives “would all be brand new and would be an ongoing cost.”

Sheriff Billy Honsal told supervisors the proposed Sanctuary ordinance “does go beyond SB 54” and places “further restrictions” on the ability of local law enforcement to combat drug trafficking and other crimes.

“This restricts us from being a part of a task force where ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and may be a part,” he said.  “When you think about partnering with our federal agencies, Homeland Security, and going after organized crime in Humboldt County, ICE may be a part of that task force and this restricts us from participating.”

Honsal added, “I don’t think this community wants further restrictions on law enforcement when it comes to us going after criminals.”

The county’s interactions with federal immigration enforcers have been infrequent. In response to questions from Supervisor Rex Bohn, Honsal said that in the last three years, only three or four people have been referred to ICE and referrals are limited to serious and violent felons.

Bohn described the proposed ordinance as duplicative of the state sanctuary law and said, “We probably don’t need this on our books.”

Supervisor Virginia Bass also has serious doubts about the proposed ordinance.

“Part of this is about educating the community before they go and vote, especially with what you’ve just mentioned about losing the ability to work with (ICE) in cases where we really do need the help” she said, adding “it’s kind of scary – where’s that money going to come from, and it hampers your ability to do your job.”

“Right,” said Honsal.

Public comment was minimal and didn’t include any of the ordinance’s proponents.

But Southern Humboldt-based Attorney Eric Kirk, a leading advocate of the Sanctuary ordinance and its principle author, commented on the county’s analysis on his blog, Sohum Parlance II.

He wrote that the ordinance is only minimally more work-intensive than SB 54 and doesn’t require tracking of ICE activity or monitoring of procedures.

Kirk adds, “The ordinance would not prevent law enforcement from providing personal information to ICE – federal law does not allow states to prohibit that.  And given that the sheriff has reported only three people to ICE over the past couple of years, the semi-annual reports should each be less than a page long and take all of five minutes to prepare.”

The county’s stance is likely to be firm. County Counsel Jeffrey Blanck warned that staff training and additional administration will be necessary to avoid lawsuits if deportation occurs and it’s determined that the county didn’t adhere to the local-level sanctuary requirements.




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