Back in May, when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors killed an agreement with the feds that allowed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents free reign to hunt for deportation targets in county jails, immigrant-rights activists hoped they would be banned totally, like they are in San Francisco.
That isn’t going to happen.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell sent a letter (pdf) to the supes last week outlining his proposal for allowing ICE access that raised questions about just how much different it would be from the program known as 287(g). Before the board ended it, ICE maintained at least one office in the jail system to facilitate their search for undocumented immigrants who might pose a danger to the public.
ICE trained jail deputies to ferret out potential deportees and imbedded their operations in local law enforcement.
McDonnell said the new plan is to hew closely to guidelines established by a new federal initiative called the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). Under PEP, agents can check fingerprint records of all prisoners and have interviews with those that qualify for deportation.
The county will let the feds know when the prisoners are being released and give detainees a chance to consult an immigration attorney before they are cut loose. The California Trust Act, passed in 2013, already limits access by ICE to inmates unless they have been convicted of serious crimes, like burglary, assault and felony DUI.
Under 287(g), ICE could just eyeball suspected perps and arrange for a quiet talk with them. Jail interviews were conducted (pdf) with 1,018 prisoners during a four-month period ending January 31, 2014, and only 271 were referred to ICE for immigration status review. Tens of thousands jail inmates went through this process using 287(g).
Critics complained of racial profiling and the harm done to local crime fighting efforts by having sheriff’s deputies identified so closely with ICE. That helped sway three of five supervisors in May when they scuttled the program. But the supes also voted 4-1 to assure the Sheriff’s department that they could continue to cooperate with ICE using PEP and community input as a guide.
To that end, the department, the department facilitated three community meetings, talked to stakeholders and conjured up the new policy. One of the things the department won’t be doing—which PEP is OK with—is detaining individuals beyond their release date at ICE’s request, so federal agents can take a belated crack at them.
During the interim between the supervisors’ vote and the Sheriff’s policy rollout, the debate over cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE escalated dramatically. A 32-year-old woman was shot to death on a San Francisco Pier by an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions and one deportation to Mexico on his record.
Billionaire Donald Trump, whose quest for the Republican presidential nomination took off when he began hurling racial and anti-immigration epithets around a few months earlier, made much of San Francisco being a sanctuary city.
The changes are being cautiously received. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, a prime mover behind killing 287(g), said she was troubled by some of the language in the Sheriff’s letter but was generally supportive.