Handling the TRUTH

Suspected non-citizens required to get a written notice telling them they can refuse interviews under California’s TRUTH Act

This is an extended version of a story that appears in the January 3, 2019, issue.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones let federal immigration agents interview 51 people in his jails last year. All but two of those interviews took place at the main jail downtown, where a majority of the inmates face charges for which they have not been convicted.

That was one of the self-reported findings Jones presented to the county Board of Supervisors on December 17, as part of a state-required accounting under the TRUTH Act, California’s 2016 rebuke to the president’s ramped-up deportation agenda.

Fully titled Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds, the TRUTH Act also requires local law enforcement agencies to notify inmates in writing whenever U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, wants to interview them. The law says the individuals should know their right to refuse such interviews by agents trying to deport them.

Jones’ presentation covered the year before this law went into effect, though he stressed that his department was complying with 2014’s TRUST Act, which prohibits jails and prisons from delaying inmates’ releases up to 48 hours at ICE’s request. Jones said his department received 415 of these immigration detainers in 2017, all of which went unhonored.

“While we allow them to file detainers on folks, it has no legal effect,” Jones told supervisors. “If they got a detainer and bailed out an hour later, they’re getting out. They’re not going to be held for any one second longer than their local charges otherwise would allow.”

The 2017-18 fiscal year marked the final year of the sheriff’s lucrative contract to sublet part of his Elk Grove jail to the Department of Homeland Security, or what Jones described as “an ICE jail within our Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center.”

RCCC incarcerated 1,303 immigration detainees in 2017—all men, Jones said, except for “one lonely female in ICE custody.”

According to a department breakdown, more than 83 percent of detainees were Hispanic. Asian detainees made up the next largest demographic—at less than 7 percent.

Reflecting the charged political moment, county supervisors earlier this year denied Jones’ request to indefinitely extend the detention contract, which began in 2000. The last ICE detainees left RCCC toward the end of June, Jones said.

Jones said ICE personnel has full access to his jails, which allows federal immigration authorities to cross-reference inmate population records against their own database.

“ICE has access to our facility. They’re in our facility regularly,” Jones said.

As for his own officers, Jones said they play no role in enforcing federal immigration laws.

“We don’t have any level of cooperation whatsoever with ICE in our communities. Furthermore, we never … inquire about someone’s immigration status, regardless of the nature of the contact,” Jones said. “We simply don’t care.”

Sean Riordan, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney in Sacramento, was one of roughly a dozen speakers who expressed skepticism in Jones’ presentation and described the sheriff’s department as obstinate when it comes to releasing public records.

Riordan, who used to work as a federal public defender, also told supervisors about a former client whose illegal reentry charge was dismissed by a judge. But instead of being released to her family, the woman was detained by ICE. Riordan said his client had already been assaulted in immigration custody and experienced mental health issues.

“So instead of fighting her case, which would’ve been meritorious, she signed her deportation papers,” Riordan said. He added that his client was just one of many individuals who have been “turned over to a detention and deportation system that is quite cold and unforgiving.”

Riordan asked supervisors to determine whether the sheriff’s department is providing written notifications to jail inmates that ICE seeks to interview before next year’s forum.

Mario Galván of the Sacramento Immigration Coalition asked supervisors to consider a bigger question, about American injustices insulated by the laws of the time. Ticking off slavery, Native American genocide, the land seizures following the Mexican-American War and other historical blemishes, Galván added, “When we talk about who’s legal and what’s right, let’s keep in mind that the law is often used to hide white privilege and notice that our nation’s prisons are full of black and brown people.”