On March 3rd earlier this year, former Los Angeles County District 1 Supervisor Gloria Molina failed miserably in her attempt to unseat City Council District 14 incumbent Jose Huizar. After decades of sitting in office as one of the “kings and queens” of the L.A. County, Molina was forced to face the reality of her standing with the immigrant community.
Huizar, born in Zacatecas 46 years ago, obtained 65.7% of the votes while Molina only received 23.9%. No one thought that Molina, whose political career began in 1982 in the state assembly and ended last year in the county board of supervisors, would even nip at his heels. Molina was not only out of touch with the impact issues that many L.A. residents face daily, but she also decided to go against the wishes of her community by spearheading the passage of the 287(g) MOA renewal as a last move in her role as Supervisor.
We entrust our local officials with the power and influence that they hold because we believe that they wield it in the interest of the community – both its safety and its progression. When members of our community are working to pay the rent or driving from point A to point B, the last thing on their minds should be whether they or a family member is going to be torn away from the life they have tirelessly worked to build. When a member of our community is seized by a local official, it must –without exception – be in accordance with the Fourth Amendment right afforded to each and every one of us in the constitution. Unfortunately, in LA County, this is not the case for immigrants who are the victims of the collaboration between Sheriff’s deputies and immigration officials.
LA is one of two counties in the state of California (Orange County being the other) that continues separating families through its cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the form of a 287 (g) agreement.
The 287 (g) agreement, in which LA County is still engaged with, means that local law enforcement can receive training to do the work of ICE officials. For years, this agreement has maligned the relationship between the police and the people they are sworn to protect.
In 2013, a study by the University of Illinois found that 70% of undocumented Latino immigrants and 28% of Latino U.S. citizens were less likely to contact law enforcement if they were victims of a crime for fear that police would inquire about their immigration status or the immigration status of people they know. Aside from depleting the trust that community members have for law enforcement, 287 (g) has been denounced for its inefficacy by organizations like Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Black Caucus, Hispanic Caucus, and even ICE itself.
With this picture, one might argue that the 287 (g) is rationalized in this day and age by the money it brings to the county. However, even going by the numbers proves 287 (g)’s case is becoming increasingly harder to justify because the funding has been sharply cut from $13.9 million in 2004 to $3.4 million in 2014. These arguments only compound the irrationality of programs like 287 (g) – programs which have been proven time and again to invite the acrimony of racial profiling.
Despite the failure of 287 (g) agreements in counties all across the country, there have been policies all too similar in nature over the past years that have terrorized communities like ours. Possibly the most infamous is the defunct now ‘Secure Communities’ program. Secure Communities, (S-Comm) is a federal program that adds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to information-sharing chain after the FBI. S-Comm allows ICE to access fingerprints taken by local police pre-conviction, to screen detained individuals for immigration status and to request that law enforcement agencies hold them (this hold is known as a “detainer”) for an additional 48 hours if they’re found to be undocumented. The program soon proved to be a detriment to the communities of California for various reasons. First, studies after studies showed that S-Comm was used as a major vehicle for mass deportation with only 12% of deportees under this program during Fiscal Year 2013 having committed a serious offense. In fact, many of them were deported for having committed infractions. Even more troubling is the fact that, under S-Comm, fingerprints are taken and scanned by DHS pre-conviction. This means that people could be deported without having been convicted of any crime. This raises incentive for racial profiling because undocumented people can be falsely accused of a crime and be deported even if they’re not guilty.
Lastly, a 2011 study conducted by a commission consisting of national and community-based organizations – among them the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) – found that contrary to its name, S-Comm threatens public safety. In this report, local law enforcement officials explained that S-Comm “distracts police from their primary functions, it diverts [local] resources, and it destroys trust with immigrant communities by making police frontline enforcers of broken and outdated immigration laws. Without trust, crimes go unreported, investigations go unsolved, decades of community policing efforts are destroyed, and we are all less safe.” To this chorus of the policy’s failure, Governor Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act on October 5th, 2013. By doing so, he created clear guidelines on under what circumstances local law enforcement officials can issue a detainer.
This road brings us to the present. In 2015, there are sadly immigrants who know the paralyzing terror of deportation proceedings all too well from personal experience. Omara Gomez-Aviles, a devoted mother of three US citizen children who fled the civil war in El Salvador and a survivor of human trafficking and domestic violence, was deported on April 8th 2015. Her oldest son, Omar, is graduating from Roosevelt High School in June, and his mother’s absence will be a dissonance echoing over Pomp and Circumstance Marches. There is no arguing with stories like this. The conclusion is clear: Any and all collaboration with ICE separates families and victimizes immigrant communities. So long as LA county officials play a willing participant in this misguided cooperation, they will be seen as a predatory force looking to persecute rather than to protect. For law enforcement officials, this means dissolving its 287 (g) agreement and pursuing a model of community policing that will restore faith in the law. It also means not complying with the adoption of any new program like PEP that will replace S-Comm. We all need to stand against any policy that fractures our communities by letting local elected officials know that starting a dialogue with LA County immigrant residents begins with breaking the ICE.