Alameda County Sheriff’s Town Hall Over Immigration High Tensions
Alameda County does not make arrests based on immigration status, but authorities are providing information to federal authorities on undocumented residents held in the county jail, the Alameda County Sheriff said , Gregory Ahern, to an emotional crowd at a town hall meeting on Friday night.
Concerns about how the sheriff’s office shares information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) permeated the June 30 event at Hayward Adult School, which drew more than 200 people. As participants questioned and criticized some of Ahern’s policies, the tenor of the meeting became increasingly antagonistic. The town hall was organized by the popular branch of the ACLU, People Power.
Like Berkeley, the sheriff’s office does not honor ICE immigration detention applications, Ahern told those gathered. However, the office responds to requests for ECI “Notification requests” – requests for information on non-nationals in custody in the county, including the expected release date of the detainee. The ICE learns of the existence of these inmates through the fingerprints provided to the federal government during the reservation process. (Under the controversy of ICE Secure communities program, these fingerprints are verified against federal immigration databases.)
Sheriff’s policy says the county can provide ICE with information about the release of undocumented inmates even when the federal agency does not request it.
At the start of town hall, the sheriff clashed with panelist Julia Mass, an ACLU lawyer who said the sheriff’s office was not legally obligated to provide this information.
“The federal law you cited prohibits counties from adopting rules stating that individual agents cannot share information with ICE, but that in no way obliges the county to provide information to ICE… He does not talk about release dates, ” she declared. She said some neighboring jurisdictions were not complying with ICE’s requests.
Ahern said his legal counsel told him the county could lose federal funding if he ignored the ICE’s notification requests.
For most of the event, Ahern answered questions and criticism from attendees, who formed a long line to address him. Ahern, a supporter of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has proposed tougher penalties for undocumented immigration, has repeatedly said that there is simply a fundamental difference between his beliefs and those of those in town hall.
“We do not agree that no one should be deported,” he said. “I believe that evil people who commit violent crimes and harm our communities should go to a deportation hearing. “
The sheriff’s policies do not affect undocumented people arrested for misdemeanors, Ahern said. People convicted of suspected criminal offenses are usually released from prison even before authorities can respond to an ICE request, he said. Those suspected of committing crimes are being held longer, which could give ICE time to seek their release dates and detain them.
Some in the public immediately took issue with the idea that criminals are the only people targeted by the sheriff’s policy. Since the county sends the fingerprints of all inmates to ICE when they are first arrested, federal agents can find out about all undocumented inmates and could search for someone suspected of having committed a minor offense. , they said.
“It’s possible that ICE could get someone who has been arrested for a crime out of our jail, and that’s their responsibility – it’s not because we’re telling them,” Ahern said.
A number of people made emotional appeals to the sheriff, imploring him to stop “tearing families apart” and telling him that the children in the community were afraid.
Ahern said his office has worked diligently to support young people with all kinds of immigration status. Many children in the county happily participate in the Deputy Sheriff’s Activities League, a free recreation program, he said.
“We have Hispanic dance lessons with undocumented people. They are not afraid, ”Ahern said. “I am not telling you that there are no people who are afraid, and they are afraid because of their immigration status. However, we are building trust in this community and we are doing our best in that vein. “
At times, interactions between Ahern and members of the public at Town Hall became confrontational. Responding to boos and cries of “Shame!” Ahern told the audience to “calm down”, calling them “your little group.”
A young woman who hinted that her brother had been killed by the police ended her comment by telling the sheriff, “Fuck you.
“Mutual,” Ahern retorted.
One participant said he felt he had won a small victory speaking with the sheriff.
Michael Goldstein of Oakland asked the sheriff if he would update his policy to specifically prohibit county officials from asking anyone to disclose their immigration status. Ahern had said his office already had a practice of refraining from such investigations, but policy did not explicitly prohibit them. Ahern agreed to change the policy and told another stakeholder he would consider his proposal to ban the county from notifying the ICE of people being held for civil offenses.
“It was huge and it really surprised me,” Goldstein said.
Although much of the room cleared around 7 p.m. when town hall was due to end, the sheriff said he would continue the event as long as there were people talking to him, and it went on. over 45 minutes longer.
Berkeley works to strengthen sanctuary city status
Since the start of the year, a large task force has worked to strengthen Berkeley’s commitment to protect its undocumented residents.
Berkeley first passed a “sanctuary” resolution in 1971, at the time prohibiting city personnel from enforcing federal law against resistance to the Vietnam War project, and the historic policy was then used. by the city and many others to protect immigrants and refugees. Shortly after the November 2016 election, in response to fear in the community and threats from President Donald Trump to halt funding for Sanctuary Cities, Berkeley City Council reaffirmed the status of Sanctuary City of Berkeley. The Berkeley School Board also adopted a policy to protect undocumented students in December 2016.
The fear has not subsided since the election. Last week, the US House of Representatives passed a bill this would reduce federal funds for sanctuary cities that do not comply with the AIC. Berkeley receives about $ 11.5 million in federal funding, which goes to social services, including housing programs, supportive care, emergency shelters, and health services.
In January, the 2 × 2 committee, made up of city council and school board members, came up with the idea of creating a joint task force to “deal with this new potential threat,” said Brandi Campbell, chief of staff of the mayor. The new task force is made up of city employees, representatives from BUSD, UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College, local immigrant rights advocates, religious leaders and others.
The task force is working on two projects, Campbell said. One group is working to establish a Rapid Response Network in Berkeley, where residents can call for volunteers to accompany them to immigration hearings or otherwise support them. The city is working with existing response networks in the Bay Area, to “plug” into county-level infrastructure and possibly harness People Power to facilitate the iteration of Berkeley, Campbell said.
The task force is also examining the law on sanctuary places, such as churches or restaurants. The goal is to create a toolbox that could be shared nationally, Campbell said, but the task has proven more difficult than expected as immigration mandates have changed this year.
One of the first tangible products to come out of the new effort is a set of brochures list immigration resources and explain city policies. A more detailed update to the Sanctuary City’s current resolution, establishing specific protocols, will be on the council’s agenda on July 25, Campbell said.
“We are doing everything we can not to be part of this system,” she said.
Berkeley’s is part of ongoing efforts to strengthen protections at the shrine. In April, the California Senate passed SB54, a bill that would restrict state and local police cooperation with ICE.