The Reason There Could Be ICE Agents In Your Neighborhood
California's "sanctuary state" law stops local jails from transferring some deportable inmates directly to immigration authorities. Officials say that could be having an unintended consequence: more gun-toting ICE agents in Southern California's communities.
Under S.B. 54 -- the new California Values Act that took effect in January -- requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants subject to deportation are not honored by local law enforcement officials, except in cases involving the most serious crimes.
Proponents of the sanctuary policies argue that local cooperation with immigration agents shifts the burden of immigration enforcement to local government and erodes trust in the communities, leading to fewer witnesses of crimes stepping forward, for example.
Federal officials don't see it that way.
"The suggestion by some local law enforcement officials that ICE's execution of its mission is undermining public safety by contributing to a decline in the reporting of certain types of crimes is frankly speculative and irresponsible," said ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley.
Immigration officials claim they can't track people as they once could because the sanctuary policies limit their ability to arrest those with criminal records.
The result is more expense and additional resources to make arrests -- and a ramped up presence in neighborhoods.
"What these laws have really done is forced us to go out in the community more," said David Marin, director of the ICE field office in Los Angeles.
The arrest of Jose Armando Rivera is one example.
On Sunday, June 10, a team of immigration officers in bullet-proof vests, carrying guns and rifles, pounded on Rivera's door in his Costa Mesa neighborhood.
Agents then arrested, cuffed and drove Rivera to the Los Angeles Federal Building where he underwent processing for possible deportation.
A 20-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, Rivera pleaded guilty to a sex crime this year and was released from an Orange County jail in March.
If his release had occurred last year, before passage of S.B. 54 took effect, Rivera could have been transferred by his jailers directly to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers for deportation proceedings.
Instead, it took ICE until mid-June to find and arrest Rivera at his home.
A team of officers had to first compile information about his charges and conviction, conduct surveillance to verify where he lived, and then send a team of six officers to take him into custody. Two more officers carted him to the ICE Los Angeles office for processing.
"We have five or six officers going out trying to arrest these people. Whereas in the jails, we could make eight or 10 arrests a day," said Thomas Giles, deputy director of the ICE Los Angeles field office.
ONE FACE IN THE ENFORCEMENT DEBATE
Rivera came from El Salvador when he was 14 to escape from gangs who threatened to kill him, he told KPCC/LAist while in detention in Los Angeles.
He had applied for political asylum, which placed his fingerprints into an ICE database and gave him temporary legal status to remain in the U.S.
Two years ago, he was arrested on a charge of assault with intent to commit a sexual offense, said Giles. Arrestees' fingerprints like those of Rivera's are sent to a federal database available to ICE, and he was flagged for investigation.
Rivera said he was falsely accused of the attack by a boyfriend of the alleged victim. It was a felony charge, which for any immigrant is extremely serious because federal law states convicted felons can be deported.
He pleaded not guilty.
Over the next two years, four trials were scheduled and canceled, according to Orange County Superior Court records. In March, Rivera took a sentencing deal and pleaded guilty to a lesser charge, sexual penetration by a foreign object and force, also a felony.
He was sentenced to the time he had already served, two years, and placed on three years' probation. Rivera said he agreed to the deal after multiple delayed trial dates and to get out of jail.
But the felony conviction dashed his hopes of receiving political asylum status to stay in the U.S. Then he failed to register as a sex offender, an added blot on his record, Giles said.
Under the sanctuary law, Rivera could not be detained at the jail and so he was not picked up after his March release. It bought him a few months at home with his family before ICE came to arrest him.
MORE ICE AGENTS IN THE STREETS
Rivera was one of more than 160 non-citizens who were arrested by ICE during a three-day period of stepped-up enforcement that ended June 12. The sweep focused on people who had been convicted of crimes or who had re-entered the U.S. without permission after having been deported.
California's sanctuary state policies have increasingly barred state and local governments from cooperating with federal immigration authorities as closely as they have in the past.
In Orange County, 316 inmates comprising 43 percent of the county jail inmates that ICE officials wanted handed over to them for deportation proceedings were transferred into federal custody at a jail, according to a new county sheriff's department analysis covering the first five months of this year.
The Orange County Sheriff's Department declined to list the criminal charges or convictions against those who were transferred to ICE custody directly from jail.
A total of 414 others were released because their convictions or charges were not serious enough to meet the threshold set by S.B. 54. The state law required Orange County to decline to cooperate with the ICE detention requests in those cases.
Of those whose immigration detainers were not honored by Orange County jails during the five-month period, 45 were re-arrested on new criminal charges, the analysis found. Some of those charges included attempted murder, child abduction, driving under the influence and assault with a deadly weapon.
LIMITING LOCAL COOPERATION WITH ICE
California legislators have been chipping away at the ability of state and local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in recent years.
In 2014, California's Trust Act took effect. That barred local jails from holding people that ICE wanted to arrest for more than 48 hours beyond their release dates.
Another law, the Truth Act, kicked in last year. The measure restricts the ability of ICE officers to interview people while they are in jail or prison.
S.B. 54 is the latest effort to limit local cooperation in federal immigration enforcement. Such cooperation had been costing state and local entities some $50 million a year, said California Sen. Kevin de León.
While Senate president pro tempore, a position he gave up to focus on his current run for U.S. Senate, de León wrote the state sanctuary law.
He disputes the notion that the law hobbles immigration enforcement. As he sees it, S.B. 54 is taking the burden and cost of a federal responsibility off state and local governments.
"The federal government is complaining because now the local governments won't be doing the job of enforcement of federal immigration law," he said.
On ICE's argument that agents are pushing into communities because immigrants who commit crimes can't all be detained at jails, he said the most serious offenders can still be held.
"We have a list of at least 800 crimes that local authorities can hold and detain you [on] until ICE authorities come and eventually pick you up."
After S.B. 54 passed, ICE Director Thomas Homan called the law "misguided" and said it would give ICE, "no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites, which will inevitably result in collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community."
Collateral arrests occur when people suspected of living in the country without authorization and who are not targeted by agents are taken into custody, sometimes when others who are the subject of enforcement operations are being arrested.
Back at the federal processing center, Rivera said he came to the U.S. to improve himself and not cause trouble. But now he is likely to be returned to El Salvador, where he said he doesn't know if he'll be safe.