MARTINEZ, Calif. – United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made 284 requests in 2017 to be notified if Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office planned to release an undocumented immigrant from its custody, and of those, 63 notifications were made, Sheriff David O. Livingston said.
His report was part of Tuesday’s ICE Access Forum mandated by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, AB 2792, passed amid concerns that ICE’s deportation program wasn’t accountable or conducted in clear public view.
It requires a community forum during a meeting of a local governing body to provide the public with information about ICE’s access to individuals and to receive public comment.
Tuesday’s forum was a first for Contra Costa County, and the Board of Supervisors, host of the forum, heard more than three hours of testimony and opinion from individuals and organizations, many of whom were concerned that ICE had any cooperation from Contra Costa County at all.
The hearing began with an explanation of the TRUTH Act, including the requirement for the forum if ICE had access to any individuals that had been in Contra Costa County’s custody.
Livingston said ICE, rather than his office, knows the disposition of the 63 about whom the federal agency was told of their release times. Nor has his office kept aggregate files on ICE-related information.
But he was able to provide the Board and the public with some breakdowns about the 63: None was black, 47 were Hispanic, two were white and 14 were of other races.
Some of them were arrested by sheriff’s deputies; others were taken to county jails after being arrested by other law enforcement agencies in the county, he said. His office had not tracked that breakdown.
Because of state legislation preventing them, ICE made no requests in 2017 to interview undocumented immigrants in Contra Costa County custody, Livingston said. Nor did he expect any to be submitted this year.
He said those about whom ICE were informed had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes – lewd and lascivious acts on children, sexual assaults or sodomy of children or unlawful intercourse with minors, bodily injury to a spouse and shooting into an inhabited home or vehicle and other crimes outlined by the statute.
But he didn’t have a breakdown of the crimes specifically associated with the 63. That would take a manual records search, he said.
His office announces release dates to the public, and he explained not only does that advise family members a loved one is about to gain freedom, it also lets crime victims have the same information.
After Livingston’s presentation, Chairperson Karen Mitchoff opened the forum to public comment.
Saira Hussain, Criminal Justice Reform staff attorney and attorney with the Asian Law Caucus and Contra Costa Immigration Rights Alliance (CCIRA), was allowed 10 minutes for her own presentation; the rest were limited two minutes.
CCIRA was founded in 2012 to provide undocumented people an “instant response” to immigration enforcement, and works with Contra Costa County’s probation department to make sure it complies with SB54, California’s “sanctuary” law, Hussain said.
Building on the TRUST Act’s prohibiting local law agencies from detaining people solely for being undocumented entrants to this country, SB54 prevents state and local law enforcement authorities from using their resources to investigate or arrest people for federal immigration violations.
But exceptions are made for transfers if the detainees have been convicted of specific serious or violent felonies or misdemeanors.
The law lists about 800 such crimes, including endangering children, robbery, fraud, forgery, crimes that lead to a death, certain drug and weapons violations, other sexual crimes, gang-related activities and felony-level convictions for impaired driving.
Hussain said ICE fosters unreasonable seizure, distrust, the separation of families, problems for families when breadwinners are detained and liability concerns for local law officers.
She said courts have ruled that ICE holds are unconstitutional, and SB54, the California Values Act, puts additional limits on transfers and requests for the immigration status of individuals.
Although Supervisor Candace Andersen argued that Livingston and his office have been acting in accordance with state laws, Hussain disagreed.
“I allege he is not compliant,” Hussain said, adding that she disapproved of the inclusion of some of the crimes listed as those making ICE transfers permissible.
She said Tuesday was the first time she had received information about detainees’ numbers, and if the Sheriff’s office notified ICE erroneously, it could be held liable. Other sheriffs have chosen to refuse giving ICE any notifications, she said.
Mitchoff received about 70 requests to speak during the forum, which lasted more than three hours. Some accused Livingston of cutting corners in the care of detainees and is spending half of what ICE would spend on them.
Others called for a review of his office’s jail operations. Some speakers accused jail employees of racist behavior; others said they had submitted requests for information but had received no replies.
Members of the American Civil Liberties Union said detainees and inmates aren’t given appropriate telephone use to respond when ICE requests are received.
“There is no candidness or openness,” one woman said, adding that getting information “is always a challenge.”
A self-described undocumented immigrant who said she had been convicted of murder said she worries daily about being deported. Some speakers said if undocumented immigrants had served their sentences and were released, they should be treated as other residents.
Another said, “I don’t want my neighbors to be treated like criminals.” Some echoed Hussain’s concern and questioned why Livingston allowed any access by ICE to detainees.
Several suggested the sheriff should put tracking ankle bracelets on detainees rather than have them deported, saying that would be cheaper than sending them away.
A few said they didn’t need law enforcement’s protection, indicating they’d prefer deputies’ layoffs so money could be earmarked for other social needs.
At times, the forum’s audience hissed at the Supervisors, and they disagreed vocally when Mitchoff refused to let some speakers return to the lectern. One member of the audience was removed from the administration building’s Board Chamber.
Andersen said some speakers had misrepresented her own statements, particularly those about her constituents’ concerns about those committing serious crimes.
Citing the public safety responsibilities of both the Board of Supervisors and the sheriff’s office, Andersen also reminded the audience, “The board has done so much” for immigrants, such as obtaining health care for those without insurance and legal service for those who are incarcerated.
She said the forum was scheduled to provide the public with information about ICE’s interaction with the county, and said those turned over to ICE were those who had targeted the community.
Supervisor Diane Burgis disagreed with those who objected to including an accumulation of impaired driving charges as a legal exception in ICE notifications. Some said those convicted of repetitive DUIs shouldn’t be referred to ICE.
She cited a case in which someone who had been charged with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol “got out and killed two little babies. Those folks should not be released.”
Among the complaints the Board expects to correct before next year’s forum is to provide translations. Several people said they had requested translators, and had not responded to their names being called to speak because they were busy translating the proceedings to those who were not fluent in English.
Mitchoff said she originally thought the Board had to provide translations for all five languages used in ICE notifications – or provide none. “I was misinformed,” she said.
Advised the Board had the option to select from among those languages although is not required to provide any, she urged the panel to provide some translation next year.
“At least Spanish,” Supervisor Federal Glover urged. Others of the panel agreed.
Vice Chairperson John Gioia was among those who wanted more information about the 63 people whose release date was given to ICE.
“There’s a lot of passion around the issue,” he said, and that passion is driven by what people are seeing in the country and the presidential administration. “We all understand the hateful policy against immigrants.”
He pointed out that under California law, local agencies are not required to agree to ICE requests, and retain the right to discretion whether to respond. “We’ve been led to believe he (Livingston) is required to respond….the sheriff is allowed to develop a policy.”
Gioia said Livingston, as an elected official, is independent of the Board, but that Supervisors have the right to express their opinions on the topic. He reiterated his view that the prior crimes associated with the 63 referred to ICE should be made available to the panel. He asked that local law agencies should be held to the same standards as the sheriff’s office.
He said ICE interaction public records requests should be fulfilled, and he was not satisfied with explanations about advance public notice of inmates’ release dates. However, he said, “My focus is on what’s within the jurisdiction of the forum.”
“We follow the law,” Livingston said. “They may not like it, but we follow the law.”
“We don’t have control over ICE,” Andersen said. “It’s deplorable that families are being separated.” However, she said, that is a debate that would continue at the federal level.
She said Contra Costa County strongly stands with immigrant advocates, and said that’s evidence because the sheriff’s office complies with California’s sanctuary law. However, next year’s forum should have Spanish translation, she said.
While she said she wants to keep residents of Contra Costa County safe, she, too, would have liked a list of the crimes the 63 detainees were convicted of committing.
“The public brought up issues they’re concerned about,” Glover said, and now the county has the opportunity “to do things better.”
On the other hand, this was one of the first of the forums, he said. “Overall, Contra Costa County continues to be a leader,” he said. “I think it was a good meeting overall.”