News

Some locals profit off of ICE

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrest an undocumented immigrant in California. (Photo: ICE, 2017)

Two California counties profit from a loophole in the “sanctuary state” law, while most others have canceled their U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts under public pressure or let them expire.

When California’s sanctuary state law, Senate Bill 54, was approved, the public assumed that local law enforcement would be prevented from cooperating with ICE agents except when dealing with people “convicted of a serious or violent felony,” such as murder, rape, child abuse or battery.

But for counties having formal agreements with ICE known as inter-governmental service agreements, the counties can cover a considerable amount of their law enforcement budget.

However, buried in the bill’s text, there is a five-word addendum in a line that prohibits a “California law enforcement agency” from contracting with the federal government to house “federal detainees.” That addendum reads, “except pursuant to Chapter 17.8.”

Under that section, as of June 15, 2017, cities, counties and local law-enforcement agencies can maintain “an existing contract with the federal government or any federal agency to detain adult noncitizens for purposes of civil immigration custody,” providing the terms of the contract are not changed to increase the number of detainees currently contracted to be housed.

It is this exception that allows Orange and Yuba counties, along with the cities of Glendale and Seal Beach, to house administrative detainees, who are people waiting for decisions on amnesty claims and immigration status. For small city jails like those of Glendale and Seal Beach, housing detainees — usually no more than a half dozen for less than 24 hours — is a courtesy to ICE with little financial benefit to the city.

But for counties having formal agreements with ICE known as inter-governmental service agreements, the counties can cover a considerable amount of their law enforcement budget.

Take Orange County. Orange County houses ICE detainees in two facilities — the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange and the James A. Musick Facility in Irvine. Lacy is contracted to hold 620 administrative detainees; Musick, 376. Combined, the facilities currently house 781 detainees. At a per diem rate of $118 per day, Orange County will take in at least $33.6 million with a potential gross of $41.2 million. Orange County’s agreement with ICE results in a significant piece of the sheriff department’s $684 million budget for the 2107-18 fiscal year.

Yuba County relies on its ICE contract far more than Orange County.

Through its jail, the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department takes in $97.39 a day for the 179 detainees currently being housed there. If that number holds for the year, Yuba will receive $6.3 million, nearly half of the department’s 2017-18 budget of $14.3 million. As the Yuba County Jail is contracted to hold up to 191 detainees, its ICE income could approach $7 million. In January 2018, Yuba’s contract with ICE was extended “from December 14, 2018 to indefinite.”

Sheriff and police departments who signed on were given federal money if they agreed to house immigration detainees.

“You come to rely upon [ICE detainee contracts]. We make no bones about that. We’ve been able to find some level of stability,” county spokesperson Russ Brown told KQED in August 2017. Aside from Orange County, Yuba is the only other California county to rely on ICE funding to operate its sheriff’s department.

That wasn’t always the case.

In the 1980s, responding to a large influx of refugee asylum seekers from Cuba, Haiti and Central America, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ran out of room to house administrative detainees, so they went on a nationwide contracting spree. Sheriff and police departments who signed on were given federal money if they agreed to house immigration detainees.

President Bill Clinton’s Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 brought a huge immigration enforcement drive, one that created another detainee housing crisis. The INS hit more counties up for jail space. By the year 2000, INS was operating in over 800 city and country jails, 47 of those in California.

The new millennium saw INS jail contracts with Alameda, Contra Costa, Fresno, Glenn, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Marin, Merced, Monterey, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Tehama, Ventura and Yuba counties and the cities of Alhambra, Glendale, Monterey Park, Oakland, Pasadena, Pomona, Santa Ana and Seal Beach. When the Homeland Security Act of 2002 dissolved INS and created ICE, these contracts we passed over to ICE.

Over the past seven years, immigrant-rights activists have pressured five California localities to cancel or announce termination of their ICE county jail contracts.

Of the 26 counties who had ICE or INS county jail contracts, only Orange and Yuba counties confirm that their inter-governmental service agreements are still active. The cities of Seal Beach and Glendale confirmed that ICE uses their facilities to hold detainees for transfer. Due to the small size of their jails — a capacity of up to 30 inmates — these holds rarely exceed 24 hours.

The status of agreements for San Diego, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties’ and the cities of Monterey Park and Alhambra is unclear.

A San Diego County sheriff’s spokesman said, “All of the inmates booked in to San Diego County jails are booked on local charges. We do not book individuals only on ICE detainers.” However, the department did not identify the status of the ICE contract. The Merced, Santa Barbara and Ventura county sheriff departments and the Alhambra and Pomona police departments were contacted several times each for this story but declined to comment. The Monterey Park Police Department also declined to discuss its ICE status.

Over the past seven years, immigrant-rights activists have pressured five California localities to cancel or announce termination of their ICE county jail contracts. In 2011, the San Jose group SIREN pressured Santa Clara County into ditching its ICE contract. At the time, Santa Clara was the second county in the nation to do so.

ICE uses state and federal facilities, as well as four privately run centers, to house adult detainees.

In December 2016, Santa Ana in Orange County signaled that it would end the local jail’s relationship with ICE. Two months later, ICE walked away from the contract.

In December 2017, Monterey County Sheriff Steve Bernal announced that ICE would no longer be welcome at the county jail.

In June of this year, after two years of organizing, a 10-group coalition pressured the Sacramento Board of Supervisors to cancel ICE’s agreement with Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center against the recommendation of Sheriff Scott Jones. Supervisor Phil Serna told reporters that continuing to contract with ICE was no longer “morally supportable.”

Earlier this month, Contra Costa County announced that it would no longer hold ICE detainees at its West County Detention Facility in Richmond. The sheriff’s department said detainees will be transferred from the facility within 120 days.

The remaining 15 counties — including rural Glenn and Tehama — and three cities no longer have active contracts with ICE. They were either terminated or simply expired.

ICE uses state and federal facilities, as well as four privately run centers, to house adult detainees. But in the long term, it can rely on only two California counties to house a substantial number of detainees. Yuba County is locked into a contract with ICE until the county ceases to exist. We were unable to find the terms of Orange County’s agreements, but were told that the county sheriff department has a good relationship with ICE. Capitol Weekly could find no immigrant rights groups in either county actively challenging ICE’s presence in their county jails.

 


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