L.A. Latinos Sue Sheriff Lee Baca for Failing to Reveal Internal 'Secure Communities' Correspondance With ICE

Updated after the jump: The Sheriff's Department says this is ICE's problem, not theirs.

This should be an interesting lawsuit -- not only for the future of immigration reform, but for frustrated journalists who repeatedly get their California Public Records Act requests brushed off like mosquitos by angry secretaries who apparently have better things to do than keep our government transparent.

In this case, the PRA requests were to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department -- inquiring into its correspondence with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

You know what that means:

Immigrants-rights orgs smell something rotten within "Secure Communities," the county-to-federal teamwork method of deporting as many "criminal" Latinos as possible.

(If only pop-turned-political hacker group LulzSec had targeted SoCal instead of Arizona, we could have gone about this with a simple security breach. But alas, they've disbanded for good, and unless Anonymous swoops to our rescue, we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way.)

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca's adversaries will be three big immigrants-rights organizations, coming together in the Southland to sue him for the documents his attorneys have failed to provide. The good thing about the case being in the Superior Court (as opposed to splurged all over the unruly Internet) is that, hopefully, the plaintiffs can set a favorable precedent for PRA requests. And, hopefully, scare some future secretaries into handing over documents the first time we ask.

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles spokesman Carl Bergquist tells us his organization has repeatedly asked for documents "that would reveal the extent and the nature of the Sheriff's Department's collaboration with ICE." This would encompass not only the nationally controversial Secure Communities program, but 287(g) and the lesser-known Criminal Alien Program.

All three involve county officials being able to either act as immigration enforcement, or call in the feds in when a criminal alien is involved.

The big problem with that: Many of the "crimes" are as puny as selling ice cream on the sidewalk. Bergquist gives us two recent examples: Magali and Blandina, two undocumented L.A. mothers with citizen children, who were taken to county jail for "illegal vending" and handed deportation papers in the process.

Melissa Keaney, an attorney from the National Immigration Law Center, says the PRA requests go back as far as May 2007. She says the Sheriff's Department has "blanketly claimed that some they didn't have, and some weren't public." So, like we said, court proceedings should prove useful for a precedent on what's private and what isn't within local and federal law-enforcement agencies.

Update: Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore says that "a lot of times, things can't be publicly released because of personnel records." We're contacting the Department of County Counsel for the exact reasons the PRA requests were denied.

Update: Whitmore called back to tell us that the correspondence these orgs are looking for "is the propriety of ICE -- so it's up to them to release it."

He says the sheriff has a Memorium of Understanding with ICE, giving the feds full responsibility to release any information that passes between the two departments.

However, attorney Keaney tells us that ICE has not been able to retrieve data specific to Los Angeles, and that the plaintiffs believe it is the legal responsibility of the Sheriff's Department to divulge all details of their side of the relationship.

We'll see, Whitmore says -- "That's one of the reasons we have a court system."

Baca's spokesman also puts in a good word for the sheriff. Anytime an undocumented immigrant has brought his or her deportation case to Baca, says Whitmore, "he has always helped lobby with ICE, and will continue to do so."

[@simone_electra/swilson@laweekly.com]


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