L.A. Sheriff Breaks His Silence on Immigration Enforcement

A protest against Donald Trump in 2015EXPAND
A protest against Donald Trump in 2015
Ted Soqui/L.A. Weekly

The election of Donald Trump has presented a line in the sand for local law enforcement. You're either with immigrants or you're with Trump, it seems.

A week after the presidential election, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck reiterated the city policy of not investigating people based on possible immigration status. (Trump has vowed to deport 3 million people who have arrest records from the United States.) "Generally we don't enforce immigration laws," Beck told reporters at the time.

The city and county governments recently joined hands to help create a $10 million legal defense fund for those facing deportation by the Trump administration. And the city is considering creating an immigrant advocate's office.

But L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who leads the nation's largest sheriff's department, was strangely silent. For weeks. "His silence now does not surprise us but it is reprehensible nonetheless," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, told L.A. Weekly last month.

Cabrera explained that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, which runs the local jail system, is "most culpable in apprehending immigrants and leading them into the hands of ICE." Indeed, in 2015 a political battle broke out over the sheriff's policy of allowing ICE agents into jails. That's still the policy.

Last week, McDonnell clarified his department's immigration stance in an editorial in what is arguably the city's most conservative major opinion page, that of the Daily News. While a sheriff's spokeswoman confirmed that the door is still open for ICE agents, she noted that the circumstances are limited. She pointed us to this passage from McDonnell's opinion piece:

Before allowing ICE agents access to interview any inmate in our jail, our personnel follow strict policies and procedures that are guided and informed by the Trust Act. Names are double-checked to ensure that only inmates who meet the release criteria established by the act are accessible to ICE agents. ICE agents are only allowed to interview inmates convicted of serious or violent crimes. ... These include crimes such as murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping and human trafficking. We will not detain any inmates beyond their scheduled release dates, regardless of whether or not there are valid ICE detainers.

McDonnell also vowed, "My deputies will not detain or arrest any individual solely on suspicion of illegal presence in the United States."

But the department still, essentially, allows ICE to have the run of the jails, so long as McDonnell's criteria, above, are met. Today, the UCLA School of Law's International Human Rights Clinic, in collaboration with the ICE Out of L.A. Coalition, is expected to release "a scathing critique of more than 20 years of entanglement between ICE and LASD," according to a statement. The report recommends "disentangling county institutions from the federal immigration enforcement strategy."

In 2015, county supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl were behind a motion that ended a program that had allowed deputies in the jails to perform duties similar to those of ICE agents. McDonnell dragged his feet in doing away with an ICE cooperation agreement, nixed as part of the motion.

This week immigration groups are reacting to McDonnell's pronouncement that he's essentially falling in line with LAPD, albeit with a door still ajar for ICE agents. "While it’s a step in the right direction for the country sheriff to state his department will not actively enforce immigration law, we will await and see what that means in practice," Cabrera said via email.

On Tuesday, immigrant advocates, including the ICE Out of L.A. Coalition, demonstrated outside a Board of Supervisors meeting. Some held signs that read, "Representation, not deportation."

"L.A. County must not feed people into Trump’s deportation pipeline," Emi MacLean, attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement this week. "L.A. County should be better than that."


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