United States deportation policies challenged in Santa Clara County, California

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Saturday, February 9, 2013

Residents of Santa Clara County, California expressed their opposition at a public hearing Thursday January 31 to a local detainment provision of the Secure Communities program of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Secure Communities includes a provision that ICE can ask state and local detention facilities to hold anyone arrested who might be in the US without adequate documentation until ICE has time to review their case.

Santa Clara County, California, Board of Supervisors Chambers shortly after the brief February 7 meeting of the Public Safety and Justice Committee

The comments came in a public hearing of a policy working group of the Public Safety and Justice Committee, convened to discuss a November 7 recommendation by District Attorney Jeff Rosen to honor ICE detainer requests for serious and violent offenders. Since October 18, 2011, Santa Clara County has refused ICE requests to detain individuals who would otherwise be released.

Another opportunity for public comment on this occurred this Thursday, at the monthly meeting of the Public Safety and Justice Committee of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. Supporters of DA Rosen's proposal had earlier asked their people to email the supervisors and attend this meeting and the Board of Supervisors' Meeting next Tuesday, February 12. No public comments were made at this Thursday's meeting.

The January 31 hearing began with comments by approximately 25 of the audience of roughly 35–40, all of which opposed the DA's proposal. They said public safety was enhanced under the current policy because many in the immigrant community have less reason to fear that they or people they care about would be deported if the police were called. Sheriff Laurie Smith then described an individual who is now in prison with a rape conviction for an event that would have been prevented if the detention request from ICE had been honored. Several in the audience replied by asking how many other criminals would go free because people refused to report or testify as a result of increased fear of deportation.

Comments supporting the current policy have been made by people who did not attend. The San Jose Mercury News for January 31 includes an op ed by Supervisor Dave Cortese, acting Public Defender Molly O'Neal, and Director of the Domestic Violence Advocacy Consortium Cynthia Hunter. They wrote, "There is nothing more valuable to public safety than community trust in local law enforcement because it establishes residents' willingness to report crimes and cooperate with police. But that trust will break down immeasurably in immigrant communities if residents face the debilitating fear of deportation. This is especially true in Santa Clara County, where two-thirds of residents live in immigrant households."

Since the January 31 hearing, support for the position of the Sheriff and the DA has begun to materialize with at least one conservative group asking their followers to email the supervisors and attend public meetings such as the one this Thursday and the Board of Supervisors' meeting next Tuesday, February 12.

The policy adopted October 18, 2011 stated Santa Clara County would honor ICE detention requests "for individuals who have been convicted of a serious or violent felony," provided ICE agreed in writing to reimburse the county for the additional expense. DA Rosen's November 7 presentation claimed honoring ICE holds would "produce an undetermined amount of cost savings by reducing probation costs", as individuals otherwise on probation would be transferred to federal detention. Reports from Colorado and Los Angeles have claimed that ICE holds averaged over 20 days. ICE claims an official limit of at most two days.

Los Angeles is currently being sued over questionable detentions of a number of individuals including a British filmmaker named Duncan Roy, who was held for 89 days. If Los Angeles loses, it appears local taxpayers may be liable.

After DA Rosen's presentation on November 7, the Santa Clara County Public Safety and Justice Committee referred this issue to its policy review working group, which held various private meetings, failed to reach a consensus, and then organized the public meeting of January 31. The next official action on this issue is currently scheduled for the March 7 meeting of the Public Safety and Justice Committee.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.