By Elizabeth Marcellino
City News Service
LOS ANGELES (CNS) — The Board of Supervisors has voted to terminate an agreement that allows federal immigration agents inside county jails and deputizes some jail employees as ICE agents, but asked Sheriff Jim McDonnell to continue to cooperate with ICE, creating new questions about county policy.
Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended on Tuesday, May 12, that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department consult with community organizations and re- evaluate its working relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the next 90 days.
“I see this as an opportunity to move forward because we have a new sheriff. We have a new board,” Solis said.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl also voted her support for terminating the 2014 agreement, while Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe cast the dissenting votes.
As the existing agreement — dubbed Secure Communities and often referred to in shorthand as 287(g) — is terminated, the board asked McDonnell to “continue cooperating with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in implementing the president’s Priority Enforcement Program.”
The second vote was 4-1, with Kuehl dissenting. She and many community activists said they see little difference between the two programs.
“It’s a distinction without a difference,” Kuehl said, with ICE agents waiting outside the jail for a “warm handoff” instead of working inside the jails.
“It is a strange day when the county Board of Supervisors takes a step forward and three steps back on immigration,” said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. “With today’s votes, the BOS has closed the door shut on a disgraced deportation dragnet, but left every window open by allowing the PEP program to replace (it).”
Others, including civil rights advocate Dolores Huerta, disagreed.
“Ending this program is a huge, major step in treating our immigrants the right way,” Huerta told the board.
Meanwhile, McDonnell, who did not attend the hearing, has not explicitly agreed to remove ICE agents from the inmate processing center at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, though Solis and the county’s lead attorney said they believed he would do so.
Federal officials announced back in November that Secure Communities would be discontinued in favor of PEP.
In their motion, Solis and Ridley-Thomas said the county should “trust, but verify,” with regard to PEP.
The Priority Enforcement Program still uses fingerprint data from local arrests to check immigration status, though at booking rather than release.
Information on more inmates is shared with ICE under the PEP program, sheriff’s Chief Eric Parra told the board.
However, only undocumented immigrants who pose “a demonstrable risk to national security” or who have been convicted of, not just arrested for, certain crimes are to be targeted for deportation under the new rules.
The list does not include crimes related solely to illegal immigration.
However, it does include all felonies, aggravated felonies, convictions of three or more misdemeanors or of a single “significant misdemeanor,” including domestic violence, sexual abuse, burglary, unlawful possession of a firearm, drug distribution, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or
any conviction carrying a sentence of at least 90 days.
Under the California TRUST Act, which took effect last year in an effort to protect inmates’ right to due process, inmates are not to be detained beyond the end of their scheduled release date. Instead, ICE is notified in advance of an inmates’ pending release.