California Attorney General Xavier Becerra released guidelines on Wednesday informing state law enforcement officials that they can communicate with federal officials about a person's immigration status under California's controversial sanctuary state law.
The memo comes the same week that officials in Orange County are publicly pushing back against the state law. On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to join the Trump administration in a lawsuit against the state of California challenging the legality of the sanctuary law.
And on Monday, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced her agency would begin publishing online the release dates of all inmates -- not just undocumented people -- in what she framed as a move that will let her office get around the sanctuary law, which she opposes.
That law, known as Senate Bill 54, took effect in January. It bars California law enforcement agencies from using their own resources to assist with immigration investigations, and prohibits sheriff's departments -- which run county jails in California -- from holding someone in jail past their release date at the request of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
It also prohibits law enforcement agencies from providing personal information about an inmate to ICE unless that information is available to the public.
But in a nine-page bulletin released Wednesday, a deputy for Becerra -- a staunch defender of SB 54 -- wrote that "there is an important exception to this limitation on providing personal information."
"Federal law (8 U.S.C. §§ 1373, 1644) prohibits restrictions on the exchange of information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status, and all California law enforcement agencies should comply with these laws," wrote Kevin Gardner, chief of the attorney general's division of law enforcement.
That means that while local police and sheriff's offices' are barred from asking someone about their own immigration status, law enforcement can talk to ICE about that person's immigration status.
But they cannot provide any other information, such as a suspect's home address.
Gardner also provided clarity on the issue of when information about an inmate's release date can be made public, writing that law enforcement can provide ICE with that information only if the information is broadly available to the public.
The guidance indicates that sheriffs, such as Orange County's Hutchens, who have decided to post release date information about all inmates online, are following the law. Los Angeles County also does this.
In a written statement released Monday announcing why she is now publishing that information, Hutchens noted that while SB 54 prohibits the sheriff from communicating with ICE, it does not prevent her from sharing information more broadly with the public.
“SB 54 makes local law enforcement’s job more difficult and requires bureaucratic processes that could allow dangerous individuals to fall through the cracks of our justice system,” she stated. "My department, however, remains committed to cooperating fully with federal authorities in all areas where I have discretion to remove serious criminals from our community.”
The bulletin also stated that SB 54 does allow local law enforcement agencies to provide ICE with access to interview someone who's in custody so long as police inform that person of their legal rights.
“The guidance we’re issuing today simply gives our public safety authorities a clear sense of what the Values Act -- which works in concert not conflict with federal law -- requires. We’re not going to let the Trump administration coerce us into doing the federal government’s job of enforcing federal immigration law. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation," Becerra said in a written statement.