Contra Costa County Sheriff David Livingston clashed with immigrant rights activists during an occasionally combative update to the Board of Supervisors on the extent of his department’s collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
In 2018, deputies complied with requests for information about the release of 105 inmates, referred to by ICE as “removable aliens” who were believed to be eligible for deportation.
Nearly all of them were Hispanic men, although there were four women listed. Ethnic data indicates that two of the inmates were Asian, and two were listed as “other.” There were no black or white inmates mentioned.
Immigration officials filed 508 of those requests, also known as Form I-247a, and deputies responded to 128 of them or roughly 25 percent.
Some of those requests were filed repeatedly, however. One inmate accounted for 23 of those 128 notifications, Livingston said, and ICE frequently doesn’t follow up.
“We’ve seen ICE probably 10 times in the last year, where they physically come on to campus to take possession of a detainee,” Livingston said.
In the cases where I-247a notifications were completed, those inmates allegedly had prior convictions for serious crimes like vehicle theft or assault with a deadly weapon. There were also three convicted child molesters and two convicted rapists.
Livingston said deputies only comply with I-247a requests in cases where the undocumented immigrant also has a serious criminal history, although policy director Angela Chan with the legal advocacy group Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus pointed out that roughly half of the cases from 2018 involved inmates whose prior convictions were categorized as “miscellaneous.”
Livingston maintained that deputies do not turn inmates over directly to ICE agents, but Chan contends that is not accurate.
She described a 19-year-old arrested in Berkeley and transferred to Contra Costa County on a bench warrant in May 2018. He spent four days at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond before he was ordered to be released, but deputies allowed ICE agents to take custody of the man in a secure area of the jail in violation of state law, according to Chan.
The meeting July 31, formally known as a TRUTH Forum, was required by state law under the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, which requires counties where any department has contact with ICE to notify the public on an annual basis.
Chan pointed out that not every county in California has to hold TRUTH Forums because some have ceased working with ICE, and urged the county to follow that lead. That suggestion led to a confrontation with District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.
“Are you saying that you think these types of individuals should not be turned over to ICE?” Mitchoff asked Chan.
“When that individual happens to be an immigrant, we subject them to double punishment, and it doesn’t address the public safety concern,” Chan said.
“I would argue that it does,” Mitchoff said.
There were boos from the crowd as Mitchoff repeatedly interrupted Chan, who was at that time in the middle of a formal presentation. Board chairman and District 1 Supervisor John Gioia intervened, but Mitchoff was visibly shaken as she pointed out that Contra Costa County is not a sanctuary city or county.
“My constituents are concerned about these types of individuals,” Mitchoff said. “Somebody who is a convicted child molester should be let go and not turned over to ICE? That’s your position?”
“Yes,” Chan said. “These individuals have served their time.”
Mitchoff’s exchange earned pointed criticism during public comment, with speakers singling her out for a breach of decorum in her exchange with Chan. One woman accused her of supporting white supremacists.
Several dozen people spoke, and though one man urged county officials to flout state law and cooperate with ICE agents to the fullest possible extent, the vast majority of those in attendance opposed the county’s apparent collaboration with federal immigration authorities.
During his response near the end of the meeting, Livingston urged the Board of Supervisors not to let a few dozen activists distract them from their responsibility to the rest of Contra Costa County’s 1.2 million residents.
“For me it’s very difficult to sit here and hear advocates, with a straight face, say some of these people who have been convicted of serious and violent felonies should not be reported to ICE,” Livingston said.
“That is not the prevailing view in the community we serve,” he said. “My job as sheriff is to protect Contra Costa families, and I will do that in whatever way I feel is appropriate under the law.”
During the subsequent exchange, a member of the audience shouted out “that’s because you’re racist,” but District 2 Supervisor Candace Andersen defended Livingston, arguing that he is not racist because he had married a woman of color.
Elsewhere in his response, Livingston pushed back against calls for civilian oversight of the sheriff’s office, citing multiple layers of state and federal oversight, as well as local oversight from the district attorney. As an elected official, Livingston pointed out that he’s also subject to the ultimate form of oversight from voters.
Activists called for Livingston’s resignation in March, citing a relatively high number of in-custody deaths at county jails and at least one incident in which two women were sexually assaulted by an on-duty jailhouse deputy, but Livingston ran for re-election unopposed in 2018 and won with 160,926 votes.