Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern at
a town hall Friday evening in Cherryland.

Activists at a town hall Friday in Cherryland shouted down Alameda County Gregory Ahern, jeered, hissed and booed him over his department’s immigration policies. “I believe some people should be deported,” insisted Ahern.

The town hall organized by the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union attracted more than 200 to a gymnasium in unincorporated Alameda County. Nearly a dozen sheriff’s deputies surrounded the audience during the 90 minute conversation that included discussions between Ahern, members of the ACLU and public speakers.

Ahern repeatedly insisted that his department follows the rule of law when it comes to immigration law and coordination with the U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement. Alameda County and many of its cities have declared themselves sanctuary cities.

Roughly 200 people attended the town hall
organized by the ACLU.

After the passage of the Truth Act, which reminds undocumented immigrants in custody of their rights, Ahern said “ICE has not been in our facility to interview anyone in regards to their documentation.” The sheriff’s department also does not inquire about the immigration status of those in custody, said Ahern. “That’s not our jurisdiction. That’s not our obligation, just like we don’t ask if they are current on taxes.”

Although when pressed by an ACLU attorney on whether the sheriff’s department provides ICE with the specific times that undocumented immigrants under their custody are released, he denied the assertion. Ahern, though, acknowledged, a release date is available to ICE, if requested, but not specific to time.

“We don’t do any deportations, we simply allow ICE into our custody,” said Ahern, citing a federal law. An ACLU attorney, though, questioned Ahern’s citing of the rule, stating it prohibits counties from adopting rules that say officers can’t provide information to ICE, but it doe not include a requirement that the county provides the information.

Ahern disagreed, and cited a legal opinion he received from the California State Sheriffs Association that under a requirement issued by the Obama administration, applicants for federal grants must comply with the federal law. The ACLU continued to press Ahern, at one point, suggesting he was not grasping the gray areas in their argument.

An activist wearing a Donald Trump mask
attempting to give Ahern a mock award
before being stopped by sheriffs deputies.

The ACLU later asked Ahern about what he would say to the families of those in danger of deportation. Ahern added, “The individuals that come into our custody, that have been deported, hves been arrested and convicted for crimes like murder, robbery, sexual assault, sexual battery, weapons violations, stolen property.”

It is also not likely that undocumented immigrants in custody for non-violent crimes and those with misdemeanor charges are eventually being turned over to ICE, said Ahern. In part, he said, because 90 percent of his department’s inmates have been charged or convicted for felonies. “It’s possible for ICE to come into our jail and take someone for a misdemeanor, but it’s incumbent on them and their work. It’s not because we notified them,” said Ahern.

As a state Senate bill that would essentially make California a “sanctuary state” continues to make its way through the Legislature, Ahern, however, offered mild opposition. He agrees ICE should not be allowed into schools, hospitals, and courts.

One of the sticking points with Senate Bill 54, said Ahern, is a provision that would allow undocumented immigrant in custody for misdemeanors to return to their home addresses to await charges. Ahern said the appearance of ICE agents in neighborhoods could incite strong protests in communities. “We don’t want them in the neighborhoods and the houses,” he said of ICE. “We think a peaceful transfer of the individual from a jail setting is better than going into the residence,” said Ahern.

Another problem with the bill, according to Ahern, “is it does not allow us to work with those who are not yet convicted of a serious crime.” The ACLU attorney shot back, “In the American criminal justice system it is known as innocent until proven guilty.”

Throughout the town hall Ahern was interrupted by activists in the audience. When some were asked to allow Ahern to speak, a man shouted from the front row, “This guy is ripping apart families, why should we be respectful?” Early on, Ahern used the phrase “criminal alien” to describe undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes. This elicited an angry hiss from many in attendance.

In one section of the large audience, activists held up signs with the hashtag #AHERNLIES every time they believed the sheriff was lying. Someone wearing a Donald Trump mask attempted to hand Ahern an award for “leadership in deporting undesirables,” but was stopped by three deputies.

Members of the audience arrived at the adult school gymnasium Friday evening to find a letter singed by Ahern that endorsed the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General, in addition, to two cards on each seat. One green card was labeled “agree,” and the other, a red card labeled “disagree.” Suffice to say, very few in this audience flashed the green card.