Can counties opt-out of a controversial immigration enforcement partnership after a state agrees to participate? In three recent meetings, ICE had the same message.
"They said no," said Eileen Hirst, Chief of Staff for the San Francisco Sheriff Department.
Secure Communities Director David Venturella flew to California on Tuesday to drive the point home in person during meetings with San Francisco and Santa Clara, after meeting with Arlington County, VA, on Friday.
"It was a little unbelievable to hear the words coming out of his mouth," said Anjali Bhargava, Deputy Counsel for Santa Clara County.
Just last September, Venturella wrote in a letter to the county that ICE would consider ways to resolve its opt-out request, which may include "removing the jurisdiction from the deployment plan." But on Tuesday he declined to discuss this option.
"To us that was a sign that the county was not going to be dealt with in good faith," said Bhargava.
That wasn't the only contradiction she noted. When California signed on to share arrest data with ICE agents, the agency promoted it as a way to target dangerous criminal offenders. But one in four immigrants deported have no criminal record at all.
"They said 'When we find out about somebody who is undocumented we go after them,'" said Bhargava. "That seemed very inconsistent from everything we had heard before about the purpose of this program and the priorities they're supposed to be enforcing."
Distrust of Police
As policy makers debate their next steps in response to ICE, advocates report fielding more calls from residents wary of interacting with police.
"There is confusion of whether ICE and local police are collaborating," said Jazmin Segura, an advocate with Somos Mayfair in Santa Clara. She tells them that police only share information about people who are fingerprinted at the jail.
"But it's hard to explain that and on the one hand build trust, and on the other hand try to avoid having this contact," said Segura. "So now we address some of the things the community can do to avoid having that first contact with ICE."
In "Know Your Rights" workshops, advocates are reminding immigrants to have their paperwork ready in case something happens, and memorize land line phone numbers they can call from jail.
"We'll be doing a lot more of these in the following months seeing as this Secure Communities opt-out does not look promising," said Segura.
"ICE has massively lied to the American public," said Sarahi Uribe, with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. "It's our job to hold them accountable and make the democratic process in this country count for something."
Uribe says she will continue to organize with counties who want to opt-out. A hearing is set for Dec. 6 to discuss opt-out documents requested in an emergency injunction by NDLON and legal advocates.
In the meantime, counties are considering ways to reassert their authority over how to collaborate with ICE. One option is to refuse to comply with some "detainers," the agency requests after it decides to begin deportation proceedings against an inmate.
When the issue of detainers came up in San Francisco's meeting with ICE, "they reiterated they are requests and local agencies are not required to honor them," said Hirst.
Generally, if the county agrees to issue a detainer it is asked to hold the inmate for 48 hours so ICE can pick them up. The federal government does not reimburse counties for this jail time unless the inmate is undocumented and convicted of a felony or at least two misdemeanors. Counties must apply for the funding and it is not guaranteed.
This article originally appeared on DeportationNation.org. Visit the site to see a complete list of counties enrolled in Secure Communities.
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