Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Dozens of immigrant rights advocates protested Tuesday against the Sheriff’s Department’s cooperation with federal immigration agents, as the Board of Supervisors approved a deal between the two law enforcement agencies.

The board’s 3-0 vote set new rules for the two agencies to work together to identify criminals subject to deportation.

Supervisor Gloria Molina said the agreement had been crafted so that it targeted only serious felony offenders.

Molina said activists would not want “these people representing them and being the face of immigration.”

Under the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Section 287(g), sheriff’s deputies have been trained to flag soon-to-be-released inmates who are in the United States illegally and deemed a threat to public safety.

Deputies once routinely held such inmates for 48 hours after their release date, so they could be picked up by immigration agents and deported. The holds prompted charges that the county was criminalizing immigration and sweeping up minor offenders to be “disappeared.”

Riverside and San Bernardino counties suspended cooperative agreements with ICE after courts ruled that such holds were illegal.

The California Trust Act, effective Jan. 1, outlawed holding inmates for minor crimes after serving their sentences so they could be turned over to immigration agents.

Sheriff’s deputies told the board they no longer hold even violent felons for ICE if their release date has passed.

Civil rights advocates, however, said 287(g) resulted in deportations of unlicensed street vendors and other noncitizens arrested for misdemeanors.

“I see cases day in and day out where people are being held in violation of the Trust Act,” said Jennie Pasquarella, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “This program has never been limited to people convicted of felonies.”

Others opposed to the county’s relationship with ICE said people afraid of being deported would not cooperate with police or call them for help.

“287(g) is wrong for L.A. County. It only perpetuates fear,” said Rani Narula-Woods, representing the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky asked for facts and figures on people flagged for deportation while in Los Angeles County jails.

“For so many of the people who end up in our county jails, not all of them are serious crimes,” Yaroslavsky said. “They’re not a threat to society necessarily.”

Some urged the board to delay their vote until a new sheriff takes office.

Molina said she didn’t want to be in the position of defending 287(g), but that some advocates were mischaracterizing the county’s efforts to comply with immigration laws and create a safe community for everyone.

“We’re not separating families,” Molina said. “When you commit a felony, you’ve made a decision.”

Molina urged her colleagues to approve the “less onerous” agreement, while Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas suggested operating under the current contract until January.

Ridley-Thomas failed to get support for a delay and abstained from the vote, as did Yaroslavsky.

City News Service

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