By Angélica Salceda
Federal immigration agents are working inside Fresno County Jail to deport people through a program that lacks transparency, oversight, and accountability
On the heels of the Supreme Court’s non-decision in U.S. v. Texas, which effectively blocked President Obama’s immigration actions to shield millions from deportation, advocates and community members unveiled their assessment of a pilot program started one year ago giving federal immigration agents unfettered access to the Fresno County Jail. Advocates warn that the program is shrouded in secrecy and leaves immigrants vulnerable to abuses by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
“ICE has a long track record of abusing its power and trampling people’s rights,” said Angélica Salceda, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “Letting this rogue agency operate in our community without any sort of transparency and accountability is a recipe for disaster.”
On June 22, 2015, Sheriff Margaret Mims launched a program that allows ICE agents to work inside Fresno County Jail. Immigrants’ rights organizations have decried the program from its inception.
“ICE’s mere presence inside Fresno’s jail is driving fear deep inside the immigrant community,” said Minerva Mendoza, a representative from the American Friends Service Committee and Pan Valley Institute. “It chips away at police-community trust. We shouldn’t be giving people more reasons to fear calling the police, especially when overall trust in law enforcement is already in crisis.”
On April 11, 2016, the ACLU of Northern California submitted a California Public Records Act Request (“PRA”) to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office to learn more about how ICE is operating within the Fresno jail. The Sheriff’s response revealed that:
- There are no written agreements or contracts, formal or informal, between the Sheriff’s office and the federal government outlining the parameters of the Fresno Program.
- The Sheriff’s office does not monitor or evaluate the program to protect people’s civil rights, nor do Sheriff’s agents receive training on the program.
- Individuals are not warned that they will be interviewed by ICE and may not be able to seek legal counsel before the interviews take place. Know Your Rights information is not provided to them.
- 326 people have been handed over to ICE and that 174 people have been interviewed by ICE since the program began.
- The Sheriff’s Office sends daily emails to ICE with a list of “foreign born” people detained in the jail and notifies ICE before a person is released
Advocates demand an end to the pilot program. Concurrently, advocates have requested that Sheriff Mims work with them to ensure people’s rights are being protected. They’ve requested access to the jail in order to distribute Know Your Rights information materials and conduct interviews with people currently detained in the jail make sure they know the due process protections afforded to them. Additionally, advocates have asked to be able to monitor interviews conducted by ICE as a preventative and oversight measure. Thus far, these requests have been denied.
“It is unacceptable that ICE agents are running a secretive operation out of Fresno County Jail,” said Jessica Cabrera, a member of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance. “We call on Sheriff Mims to work with us to make sure every member of our community feels safe and is adequately protected from ICE’s abuses. If ICE is abusing people’s rights on her watch, she can expect to be held accountable.”
Advocates also pointed to the need for statewide legislation to shed light on ICE’s controversial practices and empower communities to help craft policies that meet their needs before local law enforcement agrees to undertake programs like Fresno’s pilot program. The TRUTH Act, introduced by Assemblymember Bonta (D-Oakland), would require that local law enforcement reach an agreement with their city council or county supervisors that sets the terms and conditions of any participation in such programs and ensures compliance with California’s TRUST Act. The bill is expected to be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, June 28.
“The Supreme Court’s decision means that millions of immigrants, who are integral part of the Fresno and California community, will continue to live in legal limbo,” said Luis Ojeda, a leader with the Fresno Immigrant Youth in Action. “Instead of giving into harmful policies that rip communities apart, Fresno should do its part to embrace policies and programs that align with our values of fairness, inclusivity, and justice.”
Angélica Salceda is a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, www.aclunc.org