MERCED, California (KSEE/KGPE) – Members of ICE Out of Merced gathered outside the Merced County building and demanded answers from Sheriff Vern Warnke regarding interactions with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“We would like for him to sit down and answer our questions,” Salvador Sandoval said.
The request came right before Merced County’s TRUTH Forum, something required under the California Truth Act if a local law enforcement agency has provided ICE access to someone being held in its jail.
“I am here to report to you on everything that has gone on pertaining to any interaction we’ve had with ICE,” Warnke said during his presentation at the TRUTH forum.
During the presentation, Warnke repeated several times that the Merced County Sheriff’s Office does not participate in joint operations with ICE.
“I’ve been with this agency for 40 years, we have never, ever assisted ICE with any immigration enforcement, that’s not our job,” Warnke said.
Warnke said that in 2018, ICE sent 214 requests to detain an inmate to the Merced County jail. Of those 214 requests, ICE arrested 40 people after they were released from jail.
“There’s been a concern about information being handed over by local police to ICE and leading to deportations,” Sandoval said.
Warnke said once someone is booked into the jail, they are fingerprinted. Those fingerprints are sent to the California Department of Justice and the FBI and then if they find a match with a person who is undocumented they send a detainer request to the jail.
“When they get in local trouble, especially for serious crimes, then it’s gonna draw attention because they get booked,” Warnke said.
After the presentation, community members were not satisfied.
“Something that everyone was asking was ‘well, does Merced County allow ICE to come onto the facility property, out of the jail, so once folks are released, they’re picked up right away?’”
Those with ICE Out of Merced said they have asked Warnke to sit with them and answer their questions since last year’s forum, and they continue to do so.
“We feel he owes it to us as a public elected official,” Sandoval said.
However, Warnke said he does not think that would be effective.
“I don’t know what else they want from me other than to say ‘we will not have ICE,’ and that’s not going to happen,” Warnke said.