Unfortunately, only 2 of the 5 Alameda County Board of Supervisor members were present, Scott Haggerty (District 1) and Richard Valle (District 2). To begin the meeting, Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern gave a presentation on Alameda County’s participation in Secure Communities, a file-sharing program that automatically alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when a non-citizen is arrested at the point of fingerprinting. ICE then requests that the local county holding such an individual put a “detainer” on them so that ICE may take them into custody within 48 hours.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently advised all law enforcement agencies in the state that ICE detainers are a request from the federal government, clarifying that counties are not legally obligated to honor ICE detainers. However, despite this guidance, there is still confusion over who has the legal authority to decide whether complying with ICE detainers is mandatory for counties and also whether the policy is constitutional. Sheriff Ahern himself expressed this lack of clarity, stating that despite the opinion of Attorney General Kamala Harris, he still believes Alameda County is required by the federal government to participate in Secure Communities. Moreover, he expressed his department’s support of the policy and desire to continue to hold individuals at the Santa Rita jail who are flagged through Secure Communities as potential non-citizens until ICE can take them into custody. He reiterated several times that the goal of the program is to make the county of Alameda safer.
The problem with this program, as many advocates argued on Thursday, is that it operates pre-trial, pre-conviction, and without due process, taking individuals into ICE custody that may not have any criminal background. As Attorney General Harris stated, ICE may issue detainers “without the review of a judicial officer and without meeting traditional evidentiary standards.”
Several local non-profit organizations offered presentations in support of the opinion of Attorney General Harris that ICE detainers are not mandatory, urging Alameda county to follow the example of other California counties that have refused to honor ICE detainers, including San Francisco and Santa Clara county. Angela Chan of the Asian Law Caucus and Angie Junck of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center gave presentations that countered and refuted much of Sheriff Ahern’s presentation. Their presentations demonstrated that Secure Communities does not in practice make communities any safer, contrary to Sheriff Ahern’s rationale for supporting the program.
Local community members who testified backed the assertion that S-COMM is in fact damaging to communities, repeatedly calling Secure Communities by its nickname “Insecure Communities.” They testified to the effects on the local community when people are afraid to report crimes and abuse to the police. When local police act as enforcers of civil federal immigration laws, community members are afraid of the police whose job has traditionally been to protect all community members, regardless of immigration status. Several community members offered powerful testimony about terrible crimes that went unreported for fear that they, the victims, would be turned over by the police to immigration authorities, resulting in possible detention and/or deportation. This testimony draws attention to the fact that crimes my continue to go unreported in immigrant communities and as a result, criminals who commit such crimes will remain at large. Thus, the purported goal of Secure Communities, which is to make communities safer, is deeply flawed.
A large group of young community members who are part of the group 67 Sueños testified to the effects of living in fear that they or their family members are constantly in danger of separation, detention, and/or deportation. These directly affected individuals told heart wrenching stories about the incredible suffering Secure Communities and the honoring of ICE detainers creates in Alameda County. Several young women testified about their family members who were detained and deported. One young man of 17 testified about how he had to take on a fatherhood role when members of his family were detained and deported. He said, “I am just a young boy. I am only 17 years old. I am just trying to finish high school,” explaining that he was not ready for the role of responsibility that was thrust upon him. Another young member of 67 Sueños shared a spoken-word poem in honor of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas who was struck and tased to death by border patrol officers in June of 2010. When the young man used an ‘obscenity’ to describe this act of horrific violence, Supervisor Valle intervened and chastised the young man, stating that he liked the poem up until the use of the ‘obscenity.’ Later, another woman clarified that the real obscenity was not the use of a bad word, but the systematic violence and death on the border that the word described.
I took my turn and testified to the conditions inside of detention facilities, particularly at the nearest local county jail that contracts with ICE to detain immigrants (long-term), the West County Detention Facility, where Christina Fialho and I co-founded Detention Dialogues. I urged the Board of Supervisors to consider not just the cost of participating in Secure Communities for counties (Alameda County claims it is not adequately reimbursed for the cost of honoring the 48 hour ICE detainers), but also the profit that is made from immigration detention (over $100/day, per person imprisoned for ICE in long-term contract facilities like West County, excluding the profits made from exhorbitant phone charges). I stated that I do not believe the incentive for immigration enforcement is purely the promotion of public safety, but is also the gross profit that is made by local counties and corporations across the country that contract with ICE to detain immigrants. Lastly, I attested to how it is easy for privileged people like myself to turn off the reality of what is happening to immigrant communities. Privileged citizens have a choice about whether to pay attention to the suffering immigration policies are causing. However, I shared that I lie awake every night haunted by the suffering I bear witness to through this work and that I hope the hearing will induce a similar level of reflection for Board of Supervisor members and the Sheriff’s office.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Alameda Board of Supervisor member Valle, the only remaining member present of the initial two, assured the community present at the hearing that the Board would continue dialog on this issue. He stated that he too, loses sleep over these issues, and hopes that the Board, the Sheriff’s office, ICE, and the Alameda Community can come to a reasonable resolution.
-Christina Mansfield, Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)