Originally Published in The San Diego Union
Charles T. Clark - November 18, 2020
At Truth Act forum, advocates, attorneys, and community members urged Sheriff Bill Gore to halt policies resulting in deportations
More than 100 community members Tuesday criticized the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s ongoing cooperation with federal immigration officials.
At the yearly community forum on the TRUTH Act held Tuesday evening, dozens of residents, advocates and attorneys voiced anger and concern about ICE’s access to county jails and discrepancies in the data about transfers of immigrants from jails to ICE.
They also spoke broadly about how cooperation between the jails and ICE is damaging trust between San Diego’s immigrant communities and the Sheriff’s Department.
“A person’s legal status shouldn’t make them feel less safe, and there should be trust between the community and law enforcement,” said Juan Vargas, an Escondido resident. “Rebuilding this trust is not an easy task … and it is harder when the Sheriff’s Department is more interested in receiving pats on the back from ICE.”
Signed into law in 2016, the Truth Act requires law enforcement to hold at least one public forum each year focusing on interactions with federal immigration officials. The act also provides a series of “know your rights” measures for individuals taken into custody by local law enforcement officers.
The Sheriff’s Department said it transferred 271 inmates to ICE officials in 2019, up from 266 inmates in 2018.
The sheriff’s department also reported that it fulfilled 450 ICE requests for release dates of people in custody last year, a decline from the 649 ICE requests fulfilled in 2018.
“The fear of ICE transfers makes people less likely to call local law enforcement when they are in need,” said Chris Olsen of Jewish Family Service.
“And during the COVID-19 pandemic, policies that aid or lead to individuals being detained at a facility where the virus continues to spread are negligent and dangerous. We urge the county stop using local resources to aid in the separation of families.”
Residents’ biggest complaint was about the sheriff’s department practice of posting “inmates pending release” lists on the agency’s website, which residents say functions as a workaround of state law and a de-facto transfer to immigration officials.
Senate Bill 54, known as the California Values Act, in most cases, prevents local law enforcement from supplying ICE with the date, time and location of a person’s release from jail.
There are exceptions to it — if an inmate committed one of about 800 criminal offenses, for instance, or if the release information is already publicly available.
However, the Sheriff’s Department began posting pending release lists on its website shortly after the passage of SB54, enabling ICE to know when and where inmates will be released regardless of offense.
Now there are cases where people were released from jail and were immediately picked up by ICE in the jail parking lot, attorneys and community members said.
“This practice of publicly posting release dates invites profiling, and creates serious privacy concerns,” said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “The report ultimately leads to unofficial transfers to ICE in jail parking lots and without oversight.”
Sheriff’s Department officials have defended publishing pending release lists, saying it’s important information for family members of inmates, victims, bail bondsmen and others.
The department still has an inmate search tool on its website that provides the same information, but a person must know an inmate’s name.
Sheriff Bill Gore on Tuesday pledged to create a working group with the San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium to help address some of the issues, especially the pending release list.
“I recognize that establishing community trust is paramount when it comes to the community policing and the ability to drive crime rates down,” Gore said.
“I also know it is going to take purposeful steps to get there when it comes to immigrant communities.... I’m prepared to compromise on a lot of these things, and I think we can put together a working group of my people and people from the SDIRC to sit down, hash this out and hit 2021 with a fresh start.”
The Board of Supervisors will next meet Dec. 8 for their regularly scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. Residents can participate in the meeting remotely via teleconference or e-comments.