County Immigration Enforcement Plan Prompts Profiling Concern

Over the objections of eleven county residents, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors this week renewed a commitment to have the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department cooperate with federal authorities in identifying illegal immigrants and targeting them for deportation.

While a representative of the county sheriff’s department indicated that the identification and deportation effort will be angled only at those individuals who have already been arrested for engaging in illegal activity, critics voiced their misgivings that the program will entail an undeniable element of ethnic profiling that will be aimed primarily at Hispanics, including citizens, legal aliens and illegal aliens alike, such that it will discourage illegal aliens who have witnessed crimes or been victimized by them from cooperating with law enforcement officers.

The board approved a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Homeland Security and United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the Sheriff’s Department to perform certain immigration enforcement functions for a period of three years and authorized the sheriff to sign the memorandum of agreement on behalf of the county.

According to sheriff’s deputy chief John McMahon, “Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Public Law 107-296, authorizes the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), acting through the Assistant Secretary of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to enter into written agreements with state and local law enforcement agencies to enable qualified personnel to perform certain functions of an immigration officer. On September 20, 2005, the board of supervisors approved such an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This board action included the addition of nine sheriff’s custody specialist positions to perform this function. To ensure the individuals assigned to these positions are qualified to properly identify criminal illegal aliens in the county’s corrections system, they are required to pass a federal background investigation, attend training conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and pass an examination at the conclusion of the training. Under this program, upon disposition of the criminal case involving a person identified as an illegal alien, the sheriff’s department will turn the individual over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for possible prosecution on federal immigration violations.”

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt took the lead among his colleagues in pressing forward with renewing the sheriff’s department’s cooperative agreement with the federal government for the program.

According to available figures, last year the sheriff’s department screened 3,720 inmates jailers thought might be illegal immigrants and placed detainer holds on 2,359 of them. So far this year, jail personnel have interrogated 3,574 inmates with regard to their nationality and placed holds on 2,742 inmates.

McMahon emphasized that “We do not interview or screen anyone until they are lawfully booked into one of our facilities.”

According to a number of people who petitioned the board of supervisors not to enter into the agreement with the federal government, they do not believe that the sheriff’s department will restrict itself to enforcing Section 287(g) after legitimate arrests are made but will instead use it as a pretext to insert itself into the lives of otherwise law abiding Latinos.

Reverend Leonard DePasquale a priest at St Bernardine Catholic Church in San Bernardino told the supervisors those who attend his church are “nearly 80 percent immigrants, made up of documented and undocumented. Deportations tear our families apart and cause us to lose good, active parishioners. Children are deeply affected emotionally by the deportations. If the county works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement I believe it should do so in a way that does not discriminate against or harm any persons because of the color of their skin or because of the language they speak. I would hope the county sheriff’s department would be looked upon by my parishioners not as an entity to be feared but rather as a protector of the people as it should be rather that tear families apart. I would ask you as the county board of supervisor to work together with the Justice for Immigrants Coalition to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.”

Bobby Jo Chavarria decried “imaginary lines in the sand and imaginary separations between brothers and sisters, between families and friends.” She reminded the board that “We live within this culture working hard daily facing the challenge to be defined as something beyond what we look like, where we are imagined to be from.”

Chavarria said “I can recognize hate when I see it even when it is dressed up and looking pretty and reasonable or tries to appear as a self evident rule of law . We call for sound oversight of the 287(g) program conducted in San Bernardino County.”

Mario Amaya (Anaya?), an activist in the Justice for Immigrants Coalition, said his “main concern is how this is going to effect our community. Two members of our group were detained even though they were U.S. citizens. They were detained and transferred to West Valley Detention Center where the sheriff held them for two days because they could not produce documents proving they were U.S. citizens. The only problem is they could not speak English They were not released until they produced birth certificates. What was the reason they were detained? Not having an ID and because they could not speak English and looked Latino.”

The 287 G program is “grounds for racial profiling in our community,” Amaya said. “The only reason sometimes people are stopped and taken to a detention center is because they don’t have an ID. Once they get there and are processed they are delivered to immigration, so basically what 287 does is it makes our police department or our sheriff’s department a de facto immigration office. We don’t want that in our community. We believe we contribute, we believe we are members of this community. Even though we have been filing complaints about 287(g), not a single one has been responded [to]. There is no oversight procedure on 287(g).”

Amaya said victims don’t make reports of the crime they encounter “because they don’t want to be put into deportation proceedings.”

Luis Moises Escalante said “We urge you to modify the agreement with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in a way that allows an appropriate level of public oversight of this controversial program. Local law enforcing agencies that have been granted 287(g) powers are using the power to target communities of color including disproportionate numbers of Latinos in particular places for arrest. Reports of racial profiling and other civil rights abuses by local law enforcement agencies that have sought out 287(g) powers have compromised public safety while doing nothing to solve the immigration crisis.”

Escalante then attempted to enumerate “three provisions [to] be added to reflect the spirit of public transparency. 1) include a stakeholders steering committee. 2) assure a consistent and transparent complaint procedure.”

Escalante was then cut off by board chairman Gary Ovitt before he could explain the third provision.

Pedro Sanchez spoke to the board in Spanish. A rough translation of his remarks was something to the effect that “I ask you to give the opportunity to not have immigration enforcement in our community. Do not confuse us with vices and drugs and crime. We are here only to look for work in a dignified and honorable way and we are thankful to be a part of this community and this country.”

Jose Garcia also spoke in Spanish, saying, that many people are abused and violated as a result of 287(g).

Jenia Dunlap said that “The 287(g) program has come under intense criticism for racial profiling and civil rights violations by local law enforcement. Locally, as well we have documented the negative effects on innocent families and workers in our community who are being targeted for their Latino appearance and brought in for booking for trivial issues and end up being deported without having committed any crime. This program is not effective in targeting real criminals but is harming our community. We want better public oversight so the public has a voice in how the program is put into effect. We want a transparent complaint process that allows to us to address human rights abuses that occur under the agreement. We want the program focused only on serious criminals instead of targeting people for traffic violations and other minor things.”

Suzanne Foster asked the board to “eliminate the level three prioritization category that is a net for every immigrant or immigrant-looking person in the county, regardless of whether they have committed a crime. This program is geared toward high level criminals, felons, but unfortunately is netting misdemeanors and people that have committed infractions – maybe having a tail light out. I don’t think this was the original intent of the program.”

Foster continued, “Beyond that, the program in general undermines community safety. Sheriffs and police chiefs around the country have found that deputizing state and local law enforcement officials or having immigration in the jails to enforce civil immigration laws interferes with their core mission of protecting and serving the community that they police, mostly by inhibiting community policing strategies that cause community members to fear calling the police or sheriff. Both agencies are included in the perception of how this program is run. When community members stop cooperating with law enforcement everyone is less safe. This program is irresponsibly expensive in these tight budget times and unfocussed and does not tend to meet its goals. The federal government provides no funding to state and localities to implement the program.

“We request,” Foster asked, “that amendments be made to the memorandum of agreement to reflect the intention of the program to target violent criminals and to support community policing strategies that have proven effective nationally.”

Alfonse Romain said “We should not be pointing a finger at one race.”

Father Patricio Guillen said “a lack of responsibility of our officials [is why] we are dealing with this at our county level. They are going to unwillingly profile racially. They will have to use criminal practices. Families are separated, parents from children, wives from husbands, in violation of human rights. If we are going to have this type of practice or policy there should be some way to also ask those that are going to implement it to be accountable. Some of the practices that are abusive should be eliminated. We are facing a shameful situation. We should resolve this because in a global world we will have more of this, not less.”

Loida Alvarado, said, “Keeping our neighborhoods safe requires trust from the community and help from everyone as well. We cannot allow for our community to live in fear. Our police should fight crime, not enforce immigration law. People should not be afraid to leave their homes. They should not be afraid to take their children to school. They should not be afraid to go buy groceries. They should not be afraid to go out and look for jobs. They should not be afraid to report crimes, whether they are the victims or the witnesses. On behalf of the day labor community and the National Day Labor Organizing Network, I urge you not to continue with this program and this collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Do not allow San Bernardino County to become the next Maricopa County or the next sheriff Joe Arpaio. We are better than that and we can do better than that. Racial profiling is happening in our community.”

Without making any of the amendments or alterations to the agreement the members of the public had called for, the board of supervisors unanimously approved the memorandum of agreement, passing it as part of the November 3 agenda’s consent calendar, which is reserved for what the board deems non-controversial items.

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