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Not Messing Around: Sheriff Will ‘Physically Remove’ ICE From County Jails

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he new L.A. sheriff is not messing around.

On Tuesday, Los Angeles County’s recently sworn-in sheriff Alex Villanueva told the L.A. County supervisors at a public forum that his department would “physically remove” Immigration and Customs Enforcement from L.A. jails. The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest in the United States.

“We are going to physically remove ICE from the county jails,” Villanueva said at the Truth Act Community Forum, according to a report by NBC 4 News. People booed and also applauded, the report says.

Villanueva left before elaborating. The former retired deputy also said his department will drastically reduce the list of offenses that are automatically reported to immigration authorities.

[*Update: 5:30 pm] Late Thursday, ICE declined to address the sheriff's statements after a request by L.A. Taco. "We will decline comment," said Lori Haley, western region spokeswoman for ICE.

[dropcap size=big]V[/dropcap]illanueva shocked the Los Angeles political establishment in the November midterm election, upsetting former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who enjoyed the endorsement of most local Democratic leaders. Villanueva won with 52.85% vs 47.15% for McDonnell.

A true wave of Latino voter turnout in majority-Latino precincts arguably gave Villanueva the right to wear the sheriff's badge.

Turnout among the group grew by 66 percent over the 2014 midterm election in Los Angeles County, according to a UCLA exit study. The shift constituted a dramatic spike for a traditionally low-turnout voter group. And Sheriff McDonnell didn't exactly have the best relationship with the county's major population subgroup.

RELATED: Villanueva Extends His Lead by 22,000 for L.A. Sheriff, and Huge Latino Voter Turnout Put Him There

The L.A. sheriff leads the largest sheriff's department in the United States, with more than 17,000 officers and employees. Remember, they oversee law enforcement in the cities and unincorporated areas that do not have their own police agencies or that contract with the Sheriff's Department.

ICE has been at the center of a national and international humanitarian and political crisis in the United States’s immigration system. The agency is synonymous with abuses inside detention centers packed with migrants or refugees seeking asylum.

Recently, an 8-year-old girl Jakelin Caal died in customs custody. In addition, another child now has pneumonia from waiting inside ICE's notorious helieras ("iceboxes"), or holding cells.

"Abolish ICE" has become a national rallying cry for political progressives. In June, Washington state progressive Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal called ICE a “rogue agency.”

But Villanueva's comments signal a huge tonal shift in how major urban law enforcement leaders talk about ICE, a federal agency.

[dropcap size=big]H[/dropcap]e may also be simply playing to current political winds. In 2018 California implemented its "sanctuary state" law, which prevents from local enforcement agencies from inquiring about someone's immigration status, and also reduced the lists of offenses reportable to immigration authorities.

Several city councils in California are suing to have SB54 overturned.

Local immigrant-rights advocates called Villanueva’s words this week a sign that he’s responding to voters. George Chacon of the UCLA Labor Center told Elizabeth Marcellino of NBC 4: “The people have spoken and ousted the sheriff who sided with Trump, ICE and deportations, and against the values that make this country great."

In an exclusive interview with L.A. Taco correspondent Philip Iglauer, Villanueva promised to 'clean house' and fulfill his campaign goals, including halting any cooperation with ICE.

"We are going to make sure we are serving the community’s interest in everything we do," the sheriff said in late November. "Hopefully, we are going to move the department forward into a better place than where it is right now."

RELATED: Sheriff’s Deputies Profiled Thousands of Drivers on the 5 Freeway Through the Grapevine: Our Analysis

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