By Mike Luery

Hundreds of immigration rights advocates and dozens of law enforcement officers showed up for a community forum Tuesday evening on immigration enforcement that was hosted by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.

The sheriff’s invited guest was Thomas Homan, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Protesters and community activists made it clear they did not want Homan to feel welcome in Sacramento.

“We want ICE out of our jails,” said Danielle Williams, a member of Sacramento Area Congregations Together (ACT). “We want the contract that our sheriff has with ICE to end.”

Jones said before the forum that, like many California sheriffs, he does allow ICE agents full access to the county jail.

“The best way to keep widespread nets from being cast in our communities is to allow us to cooperate in our jails -- to protect the community from the worst of the worst,” Jones said.

“We need to allow ICE to come in and carry out their mission, which is to remove these folks if appropriate."

“We allow them full access into our jails so they can conduct their interviews and take whatever enforcement action or take custody if their local charges are cleared, if appropriate," Jones explained. "We cooperate with them as any other law enforcement agency would.”

Jones said the federal government pays his department approximately $100 for each undocumented immigrant held overnight in the county jail, amounting to up to $5 million a year.

“Our sheriff’s department is benefiting off the back of undocumented immigrants,” ACT Associated Director Gabby Trejo said. “And, that is morally wrong."

“My lens is public safety,” Jones responded. “And if I were to abdicate that responsibility and not allow ICE into our facility, dangerous people would get out.”

The latest numbers from ICE show:

  • 35,604 undocumented immigrants were removed nationwide in January and February
  • Projections show 213,624 undocumented immigrants will be deported in 2017 under President Donald Trump
  • 240,255 undocumented immigrants were deported in 2016 under President Barack Obama

Immigrant rights groups are wary of deportations.

“We are not a community of criminals,” Trejo said. “And they need to stop using that narrative because these are communities that are contributing to this country that have children who are U.S. citizens."

Immigration laws have not changed since Trump was elected, but enforcement is now a top priority, according to ICE. Enforcement includes:

  • ”Removable aliens” convicted of any criminal offense
  • Undocumented immigrants that pose risk to public safety or national security
  • ICE is hiring 10,000 additional agents and officers for maximum enforcement

Jones said his deputies do not participate with ICE enforcement actions.

"As sheriff, we never ask anyone's immigration status," he said. "Never have, never will."

"We do respond to undocumented households every day as they call us and need us for help," Jones added. "We just have no way of knowing because we don't track. We don't collect that data and never will."