‘ICE out of California’

What happens to ICE detainees currently in the jail remains an open question

America Martinez lights candles at an altar for children impacted by zero-tolerance border policies.

America Martinez lights candles at an altar for children impacted by zero-tolerance border policies.

Starting July 1, the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department will no longer be in the business of incarcerating undocumented immigrants.

The Board of Supervisors on June 5 voted 3-2 against indefinitely extending a relationship between the federal government and the Sheriff’s Department, a deal that pays $100 per day for each detainee held in a county jail. In its proposal to continue the arrangement, the Sheriff’s Department budgeted for $6.6 million in revenue for 2018-19. With opposing votes from District 1 Supervisor Phil Serna, District 2 Supervisor Patrick Kennedy and District 5 Supervisor Don Nottoli, advocates celebrated the board’s close decision.

“This is something that really speaks to Sacramento values,” said Carlos Montes-Ponce, community organizer with Sacramento Area Congregations Together. Sacramento ACT is one of several organizations pushing back against the presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

“They made the right decision,” Montes-Ponce said. “They made the moral decision.”

In 2017, California passed three laws barring local police forces from cooperating with ICE. These included Senate Bill 54, which prevents state and local law enforcement officials from keeping undocumented immigrants longer than their initial offenses permit, and prohibits new contracts like that between the county and ICE.

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, a vocal critic of those laws, hosted a contentious forum before their passage that featured acting ICE Director Thomas Homan.

This past March, Jones traveled to Washington, D.C. for a White House meeting that included Homan, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump. Without presenting evidence, Jones told the president of “spectacular failures every single day around California” resulting in the release of “criminals that are going to go out and … victimize other folks—that we’re unable to capture, apprehend and keep detained for deportation.”

Last Wednesday, June 20, activists rallied outside Robert T. Matsui Courthouse, where the first hearing associated with Sessions’ lawsuit against the state was taking place. Two men held a large, yellow banner with “ICE out of California” painted in black. Another group held a banner that said “Undocumented and unafraid,” as three ICE officers watched the scene. A petite elderly woman warmed by a lace shawl chanted with the rally cries in Spanish.

Sen. Kevin de León, who authored SB 54, spoke alongside immigrants and activists.

“We have a message for Jeff Sessions and for President Trump,” de León said. “Whether you like it or not, we don’t support Jeff Sessions’ values here.”

Around 100 protesters attended a Monday rally at an ICE office on Capitol Mall to protest the administration’s zero-tolerance policy that has led to thousands of children being taken from their parents. Americans who were forced into Japanese internment camps during World War II spoke of their experiences being imprisoned as children.

While Trump signed an executive order last week reversing his administration’s practice of family separation, protests continue, with marches set for Saturday in cities nationwide around the theme, Families Belong Together & Free. The local rally will begin at 10 a.m. at 650 Capitol Mall.

When the Sheriff’s Department first made a deal with the federal government in 2000, detainees were kept in the downtown jail as they awaited deportation or worked through their appeals. After the contract was renewed in 2013, they began being housed at Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center in Elk Grove.

Detainees have long complained of problems with the facilities, where, they say, they were packed into cramped cells with very little time outside, and had to bathe in toilet water. A man became quadriplegic after he attempted suicide. Another wrote “They treat us like animals” in one of 20 letters sent to SN&R in 2015 (see “Inside the Sacramento jail’s Guantanamo Bay,” December 31, 2015).

“We’ve been very concerned with the treatment of people at this facility for years,” said Rebecca Merton, independent monitor for Freedom for Immigrants, which works to end immigration detention. “We’ve heard countless stories of abuses.”

Lori K. Haley, a communications director for Department of Homeland Security/ICE, said in an email that ending this contract could hurt detainees, who may be moved further from family and lawyers.

In Susan Lange’s experience visiting RCCC for the past five years, many of them don’t have visitors frequently, if at all. Lange speaks with unguarded delight when discussing the Faithful Friends—Amigos Fieles, a visitation group affiliated with the Freedom for Immigrants Visitation Network. She never expected to become a political advocate when she agreed to participate with members of her church.

“I started out thinking it was a nice thing to do,” she said. “But I really have changed my attitude through the years because of the conditions and abuse at Rio Cosumes. … I realized that I’m not going in there just to talk with people and make them feel good they had a conversation, but I’m going in there to be in solidarity with them.”

She’d like to see the men released under supervision into the communities they were living in, to continue working through their appeals, rather than be moved to detention centers out of state.

“ICE may have to depend on its national system of detention bed space to place those detainees in locations farther away from Sacramento,” Haley’s email stated.