Community members demonstrate in front of the Federal Building in downtown Fresno against

Immigration and Customs Enforcement in California

By Jonathan Luevanos Felix

ICE Out of California

Police violence, incarceration and the criminalization of homelessness and of immigrant individuals have become problems in California. One problem, which important political officials in the Central Valley have failed to address, is the ongoing injustice committed against immigrant communities of color.

The U.S Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) has primary responsibility to investigate and enforce federal immigration laws in local counties. Because the implementation of the TRUST Act has added a weight of balance to the state against federal infiltration, it is imperative to address any form of inconsistency that contributes to the perpetuation of an imbalanced system.

On March 6, the Women’s Building in the city of San Francisco held a statewide strategy conference that focused on addressing the status of the relationship between local law enforcement officials and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The conference included community members, students, grassroots organizers, lawyers and professors in an effort to identify the inconsistencies of law enforcement and their ongoing collaboration with federal immigration officials to infiltrate immigrant communities of color. All or at least most of the people at the conference expressed a determination to get ICE out of California.

The purpose of the conference was also intended to form coalitions to strategically start to address law enforcement officials’ failure to comply with the TRUST Act. To understand the nature of the intentions of the conference, an analysis of the policies of the counties of San Francisco and Fresno entailing the relationships between the TRUST Act, local law enforcement and ICE will be provided.

San Francisco and Fresno

The TRUST Act went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014 for limiting cruel and costly immigration “hold” requests in local jails across the state. It serves as a law to prevent or prohibit local law enforcement or any local government agency from unreasonably establishing and maintaining a relationship with ICE in which an individual is held for a period surpassing the required time of detention. The existing policies of certain counties in California that prohibit law enforcement officials from establishing relationships with ICE show the obvious possibility of a positive solution in Fresno and other repressed cities in the state. San Francisco County stands as an example of a county (the city and county are the same) that explicitly denounces and condemns any relationship between law enforcement and ICE. The following entails a summary of the sheriff’s memorandum on the status of the relationship:

Date: January 28, 2015

From: Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department’s ICE detainer policy is that ICE Immigration Detainers (Form I- 247) shall not be booked or honored. No individual in the Sheriff’s Department custody shall be detained for or released to ICE authorities pursuant to an ICE Immigration Detainer (Form I-247).

San Francisco County does not find justification for and does not legitimize a relationship between local law enforcement and ICE. Although the progressive nature of San Francisco has led to adequate implementation of the TRUST Act and prohibited the interaction between local and federal agencies, an inconsistency remains throughout the state, which has been negatively affecting vulnerable and helpless communities.

Although San Francisco explicitly rejects the involvement of ICE in matters of law enforcement, Fresno County finds itself in a situation where there is perpetual discrimination against immigrants. The following entails a summary of a Fresno County Sheriff’s Department memorandum that confirms Sheriff Margaret Mims’ relationship with ICE and the status of the implementation of the TRUST Act:

Date: February 25, 2015

From: Sheriff Margaret Mims

ICE Detainers will continue to be accepted and added. However, the detainer will not serve as a hold, or delay an inmate’s release beyond the scheduled date of release.

This recent memorandum identifies that there is a continuing relationship between law enforcement officials and ICE in Fresno County. The second sentence confirms compliance with the TRUST Act. As long as there is sufficient compliance with the state in which the county does not unlawfully detain an individual beyond its jurisdictional authority (beyond the time of any kind of sentence), the county cannot get in trouble. In the meantime, Mims continues to establish a partnership with federal law enforcement by responding to any ICE requests without explicitly violating the law.

A brief comparison of San Francisco and Fresno can be formed: The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department is against racism, whereas the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department is racist. Fresno County is problematic.

The relationship between Mims and ICE has been plaguing Fresno County and has become a social problem. The coordination, implementation and enforcement of a strict immigration policy in Fresno County has historically plagued immigrant communities in the Central Valley, especially those of Latino backgrounds. The failure to reasonably comply with the TRUST Act warrants a justified suspicion of the continuing repression due to the constant irresponsibility of political officials in the county.

Social, Political and Cultural Challenges

Some of the challenges that are facing Fresno County were outlined in the conference: challenges in creating capacity and numbers against the status quo; challenges in creating alliances with community groups, legal organizations and a diverse county of many different ethnic backgrounds; challenges against the superstructure or the culture of racism. The conference highlighted the importance of intervening in TRUST Act violations and building statewide regional and networking coalitions (southern, central and northern California).

Besides the economic, social and political challenges, the implicit cultural challenge has a predominant influence. Fresno County serves as an adequate example of the cultural challenge precisely because of the problems of the relationship between local law enforcement and ICE. Because the implicit cultural interplay of racism has a huge impact on communities, one can plausibly assume that the ongoing police violence and repression, the problems of incarceration in the Valley and the problems of immigration and ICE are all connected. They are all parts of a history and culture of racism in Fresno. The partnership with federal law enforcement agencies only sustains and highlights the historical racism that has been prevalent in the county since its origins. It is imperative that one must consider the importance of state advocacy, legislation and policy in order to fight the local systems in the Central Valley.

One must take careful consideration of the magnitude of such a historic case in which economic, social and political repression are perpetuated in relationship to racism to the point of creating an ideological state apparatus in which discrimination and racism become normal or accepted. The constant fear perpetuated in communities helps establish a state of docile conformity. That is why Mims is able to keep on deporting innocent people victimized by a ruthless and racist system in the Valley conforming the public to its injustices. That is why no political official has adequately addressed the problems of poverty, gangs and crime, and that is why no one reacts to the 80 police murders in Fresno since Jerry Dyer has been police chief.

Mims and Dyer must understand that immigrants, homeless people and criminals are people with dignity and that they deserve as much respect as anyone who lives near Woodward Park or in the upper middle class suburbs of Fresno County.

*****

Jonathan Luevanos Felix can be contacted at jluevanosfelix@gmail.com.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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