San Diego Values Community & Transparency

November 18, 2019

By Monika Y. Langarica


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The California Values Act (SB 54), which went into effect in January 2018, protects the safety and well-being of all Californians by ensuring state and local resources are not used for federal immigration enforcement. In enacting the law, the state legislature acknowledged what community groups have been declaring for decades: immigrants are valuable and essential members of the state’s community and entanglement between federal immigration agencies and local law enforcement threatens community trust, diverts limited resources, blurs accountability and raises constitutional concerns.

Nearly two years after the law went into effect, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department continues to undermine state laws designed to protect all Californians against federal overreach on immigration enforcement. Those who remember the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ decision to side with the Trump administration’s ultimately failed lawsuit against California’s pro-immigrant laws are likely not surprised, but we should all be deeply concerned.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including its myriad of sub-agencies, has proven time and time again that it cannot be trusted to respect the law. Courts at multiple levels have had to step in over the last few years to stop DHS’s egregious practices and uphold immigrants’ civil rights. Yet our Sheriff’s Department — whose mission is to uphold the law — continues to enable DHS agencies to target individuals for deportation and tear families apart. How can we trust our local law enforcement agencies if they collude with the same agencies that have ripped crying babies from their mothers’ arms and fought to keep children caged indefinitely in violation of our nation’s laws?

Under SB 54, the Sheriff’s Department is prohibited from notifying ICE of the release of certain individuals from its custody. But after the law went into effect, the Sheriff’s Department began a new practice of publicly publishing a daily list of individuals in its custody pending release from county-run jails. The new function is in addition to the continued existence of the “Who’s in Jail” tool on the Sheriff’s website, which allows users to plug in individuals’ names to learn about their custody status.

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In contrast, the new function simply lists names of all individuals pending release on any given day without requiring users to know who they are looking for, inviting racial profiling and facilitating the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) targeting of community members for deportation. Indeed, community members’ experiences indicate a rise in ICE staking out jails’ parking lots to find people it wants to arrest on any given day. We have no doubt the rise in ICE’s jail parking lot arrests is a result of the Sheriff’s new practice of publishing a list of all individuals due to be released each day.

In one case, a person was released from the Sheriff’s custody after a family member posted bail. Because ICE knew about his looming release, two officers staked out the Vista jail parking lot and cornered him into their custody. He subsequently faced criminal prosecution for entering the country without permission and imminent deportation — all facilitated by the Sheriff’s new practice, which dramatically and inequitably compound the consequences immigrants face as a result of any encounter with law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department is betraying community trust by exploiting loopholes in SB 54 to thrust community members into the crosshairs of DHS’s inhumane deportation machine.

In addition to facilitating ICE’s parking lot arrests, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department continues giving ICE access to its jails and transferring community members to ICE custody. Just as alarming is the department’s own data — obtained through California Public Records Act requests as a part of ACLU of California and partners’ ongoing SB 54 implementation efforts — reflects violations of the state law, including having used a Border Patrol agent as an interpreter and raises questions about the data the Sheriff’s Department has reported to the state.

On November 19, 2019, the Board of Supervisors will host a TRUTH Act Community Forum. California law (AB 2792) requires local and regional governments to provide an annual forum for people to share concerns and receive clarity on how local law enforcement agencies, including our Sheriff’s Department, collaborate with ICE.

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Join the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium (SDIRC) in calling on our Sheriff’s Department to kick ICE out of its jails, commit to transparency and accurate reporting and stop publicly posting people’s names for ICE to target. Above all else, we invite you to reimagine and demand a San Diego border community that upholds California values, protects immigrants and refuses to be in the business of immigration enforcement.

Monika Y. Langarica is an immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties.