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County Supervisors Criticized Over Timing of Community Forum for Immigrants

November 15, 2018

By Marielena Castellanos

Criticism of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors was expressed by several community leaders, immigrant rights advocates, and residents over the timing of a required community rights forum intended for immigrants impacted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The forum was scheduled at the same time as the regularly scheduled County Board of Supervisors meeting, but seats inside the meeting room were overwhelmingly filled with people who support the rights of immigrants and people wanting to speak about other issues also scheduled on the official agenda.

Early on Dianne Jacob, vice chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, said, “The action before the Board is simply to hold a community forum,” and “Then second, the only action would be to receive a report from the Sheriff’s department regarding ICE access to individuals during 2017.”

Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee U.S.-Mexico Border Program, who was one of a group of speakers before the County Board of Supervisors, said that a formal request to move the forum to a time when more people could attend was denied.

The forum is a requirement from a new law, the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, which is intended to increase transparency around local engagement with ICE. The law is also meant to help immigrant community members held in local jails and targeted by ICE learn their rights.

The law was originally a State bill signed into law in September of 2016 by Governor Jerry Brown and went into effect at the beginning of last year. The law includes a requirement for a local legislative body to hold a community forum annually if local law enforcement allows ICE access to any individual.

“We have worked hard to make our State a place where all families are protected. We intend to raise the voices of those who the Board of Supervisors intentionally leave out,” stated Lilian Serrano, chairperson of the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium.

Speakers who attended the meeting addressed a number of different issues affecting undocumented people. Serrano, who was the first speaker at the meeting, told the Board of Supervisors she was with the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium and represented 55 organizations throughout the County.

Rios also shared that the group had several recommendations, one of them being changing the location, and another, “to make the future forums more accessible and inclusive,” and “held at times when more people from the public can show up and to be able to express themselves.”

Rios had other recommendations including halting ICE access to all Sheriff’s jail facilities and their databases.

Mike Barnett, the undersheriff of San Diego County said, “It was only the access ICE has within County jails that is at issue.”

The Sheriff’s presentation included data that was maintained on access to ICE within County jails that was in compliance with the TRUTH Act.

At the request of the California Immigrant Policy Center, the Sheriff’s department also conducted a manual count of ICE access by tracking several forms which revealed the following: 195 individuals consented to interviews with ICE without an attorney, 132 individuals consented to an interview with ICE, but only with their attorney present, 208 individuals declined to be interviewed by ICE, 682 individuals were notified that ICE requested their release dates, and 597 had theirs provided to ICE.

In 2017 the Sheriff’s department had over 82,000 releases processed, and of that total, approximately 1,143 individuals were released to ICE, making up approximately 1.4 percent of the total releases for 2017.

Felicia Gomez, policy coordinator with the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), said the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department worked with advocates to improve forms given to immigrants in County jails and made them available in different languages. The Sheriff’s office also worked with CIPC to track the data from the forms and make it available to the organization. The forms are another new requirement from the TRUTH Act.

Gomez also outlined a number of concerns, including the County Sheriff’s posting release dates and times of individuals in jail custody on their county website.

After all of the speakers spoke, Supervisor Dianne Jacob asked one question, “Since there was an allegation that the forum we held on this particular item, “Are we in compliance of with the TRUTH Act?” Thomas Montgomery, the County counsel, replied, “Yes.”

Those were the only comments made in reference to the forum from the County Board of Supervisors during the meeting.

In April of this year the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to support President Trump’s lawsuit against California’s sanctuary laws.

Will Johnson, a San Diego resident and the last speaker at the meeting, said, “From what I’ve seen here today, I see that the Board and the County is in violation of two California laws. The first is the TRUTH Act. This wasn’t a forum. It just wasn’t. There was a presentation given and then people got to speak during public comment that’s just a meeting. A forum means people ask questions. That didn’t happen today.”

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