Public comments at Oct. 2 meeting stray from purpose of Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act
By Reggie Ellis
TULARE COUNTY – There were many truths revealed during the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, but the TRUTH Act wasn’t one of them.
On Oct. 2, the Board of Supervisors held its first forum mandated by the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in 2016. The law, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2018, requires California legislative bodies to hold at least one public community forum where it provides information about ICE’s access to individuals and receive and consider public comment.
But instead of providing a transparent look into the law enforcement relationship between county and federal agencies, the forum devolved into an example of a broken immigration system that continues to pit citizens against their undocumented neighbors.
The item was presented Julieta Martinez, chief of staff for the Board of Supervisors, instead of a representative from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, which was notably absent from the speakers regarding the agency’s handling of ICE transfers. The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to requests for additional information as of press time.
Martinez reported that the Probation Department has not provided any access to ICE and a small percentage of bookings by the Sheriff’s Department. Of the 19,335 bookings in 2017, the Sheriff’s Department said it received 244 requests from ICE to turn over inmates to immigration authorities. Less than half, 107 inmates, were transferred to ICE custody while 137 were not. Of the 137, 79 did not meet the statutory requirements for ICE transfers and 58 did meet the requirements but were denied access. Thirty-eight were denied access because no criminal charges were filed and 20 because they were pending trial for felonies. All 20 of those with pending trials were being charged with murder or sex offenses.
Ben Bergman of Exeter said he was frustrated by the report, saying that 100% of detainees who were not legal residents should have been turned over to ICE.
“If you are here illegally you should be afraid of being deported,” Bergman said. “If we are not a nation of laws, then we are not a nation.”
SB 54, California Sanctuary State Law, clearly states that law enforcement has the discretion to cooperate with ICE only if the individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony or misdemeanor crimes that carry felony punishment. SB54 further prohibits California law enforcement agencies from aiding ICE in the pursuit, investigation or arrest of individual’s for immigration status, inquiring into a detainee’s immigration status, or providing office space for ICE agents.
Maricela Sanchez, Central Valley Mobilization & Civic Engagement Assistant for ACLU of Northern California, explained that the purpose of the forum was to increase transparency about how and why local detainees are transferred to ICE custody. She asked two main questions for which no one provided answers: 1) What is the process for releasing someone into ICE custody and how long did the process take?; 2) Which employees are responsible for notifying ICE when a detainee of interest is released?
Joanna Key of Porterville said she wished people would come to the U.S. legally. “I would like for all of Constitutional laws to be followed,” she said, referring to the 14th Amendment which states “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”
Brock Neely of Porterville countered with the very next clause of the 14th Amendment, “… nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Neely added, “It doesn’t say all citizens, it says all persons. If you have not been convicted of a crime then you are not a criminal yet. Let’s have adherence to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Daniel Panelosa of Porterville said his family came here illegally and were living here when President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Known as the Reagan Amnesty program, the law legalized certain seasonal agricultural workers. He said his mother did not became a legal resident until 2010 due to the length of the process. He said a friend of his recently was detained and taken away by ICE on his way to work to provide for his family.
“Where is the compassion for our families in Tulare County?” Panelosa said.
Genevieve Peters said SB 54 was just a conspiracy to defy President Trump. She said anyone who comes here illegally is already a criminal.
“If you are concerned about getting separated from your children, don’t come here illegally,” she said.
Jose Torres quoted the Declaration of Independence in regards to “unalienable rights” of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given to all human beings, and not just those of a particular nationality. “SB 54 is more in line with our Constitution than our President,” he said.
Gina Sanchez of Visalia said her family emigrated to this country when she was a child. It took them 10 years to obtain citizenship while living in a nearby labor camp but they never feared the Sheriff because they were not criminals and were in the process of becoming citizens.
“Releasing one of these people is one too many,” she said. “I support our Sheriff and I support ICE.”
Raul Garcia of Porterville said the forum felt like an us vs. them mentality. He said SB 54 was created with exceptions to separate violent criminals from residents who might have made a legal misstep. He said he was lucky enough to be born in the greatest country but many immigrant families came here to escape violence in their native countries to raise their families in peace.
“Supposedly we believe all men are created equal,” Garcia said. “Then why can’t we extend that belief to our undocumented community members?”
Leticia Lopez of Porterville said she was raised in Woodville Labor Camp and knows many families who remain there. She said she understands the community’s desire to feel safe and the Sheriff’s intention to ensure their safety, but she has also seen fear spread throughout communities like Woodville.
“There should be a way for the Sheriff to be able to do his job but also live safe in our communities,” she said.
Devin Mathis (R-Visalia), who represents Tulare County and District 26 in the California Assembly, said he voted against SB 54 because it prevented law enforcement from keeping communities safe. Instead, Mathis said he coauthored AB 1885, which would require undocumented workers to be vetted by Homeland Security before receiving a work permit to be here legally, but has yet to make it out of the Assembly Labor and Employment committee.
Sarah Marquez of Visalia concluded the forum by bringing some attention to the real purpose of the forum. “If we understand exactly what the process is we can start to rebuild the relationship with the community.”
None of the supervisors spoke following public comment.