There are a lot of bad laws. And there are some good laws that contain bad exemptions. When California passed the state sanctuary law, SB54, it included carve outs (bad) that allows law enforcement agents to voluntarily turn some people over to ICE, based on convictions. It is voluntary. These types of laws allow bad people to do bad things to other people with impunity. Since 2017 the sheriff of San Mateo County has turned over 100 people to ICE. Every year a Truth Act Forum is held to review the practice of handing people over to ICE who imprisons them again and can deport them. Once a person is deported there is very little that can be done to reunite them with their people.
The 2021 Truth Act Forum for San Mateo County was held on November 3 over Zoom. SMC sheriff Bolanos turned more people over to ICE this year than any other county in the Bay Area. According to the department of justice, he turned over 26 people. The sheriff disputes this number and claims the feds are counting charges, not people and that he turned over 15, not 26. But even one is too many!
San Mateo County for Immigrant Rights (SMCCIR) held a rally outside the county offices in Redwood City before the Forum began. About 50 people participated and a lot of media showed up to interview and film the event.
The Truth Act Forum was organized by SMCCIR and presented by the SMC Board of Supervisors. For the first time the BOS allowed SMCCIR to have same amount of time as the sheriff in their presentations. The presenters included the sheriff, Melanie Kim from Asian Law Caucus and SMCCIR, Scott Sherman, an attorney from the private defenders (San Mateo is one of the only counties in California with no public defender’s office), and Angel Benito, a community leader who was deported to Mexico two years ago.
The sheriff gave the same talk he gives every year. He runs through the carve outs to show he is acting within the law, that his main concern is for the victims of the convicted person, public safety, and the very poor excuse that he is protecting the community from future crime. Scott Sherman explained, among other points, that when people who are undocumented are arrested for a minor crime, the police will often threaten to turn them over to ICE immediately to convince them to plead to a more serious crime so that they go to prison in California. Then that major crime makes them eligible to be turned over to ICE after they serve their sentence here.
Melanie Kim presented slides with statistics about the terrible conditions and treatment that people are subjected to in ICE detention, including racial injustices, physical and sexual violence and medical neglect. A poll by U.S. Immigration Policy Center at University of California San Diego, commissioned by Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus showed of that 80% of respondents — including 76% of self-described conservative voters and 54% of registered Republican voters — agree or strongly agree that regardless of what country a person was born in, they should be released from prison or jail after completing their sentences. Six of out of every ten respondents say that the statement “after an immigrant who is convicted of a crime serves their prison or jail time, they should be allowed to return to their community here in California and rebuild their life” aligns closest with their personal views.
Angel Benito spoke to us from Mexico. He was deported after spending three years in ICE detention. He told of the mistreatment by ICE, the lack of proper nourishment and extreme medical neglect. He also talked about his family and community left behind – his mother and child, who he hasn’t seen in more than three years and how hard it is to be an absent father.
The meeting was then opened for public comment. More than 60 people spoke in favor of ending the county’s collaboration with ICE. Many of them were immigrants who expressed how unsafe they feel in San Mateo County. Not a single person supported the sheriff’s policy of collaboration. Upon completion of the public comments the supervisors responded to the testimonies. Supervisors Pine, Slocum and Canepa all said that they wanted the end of transfers to ICE. Horsley did not agree. Groom said she would like to see a committee formed to discuss how this might happen. The County manager was asked if there was any way for the BOS to affect the sheriff’s policy but he did not have a good answer.
On November 9, a week after the forum, Bolanos announced that he was changing the policy and that the sheriff’s department would no longer be cooperating with ICE. We are still waiting for an official written statement of this change of policy. And we are still pressuring the BOS to pass an anti-collaboration with ICE ordinance to cement this change.
While we celebrate this victory, we also have to acknowledge the irreparable harm done to the people and their friends and families who were impacted by this cruel and devastating transfer practice that has been going on for four years. Bolanos has yet to acknowledge all the damage that has been done to the community and families of people who were held in ICE custody or deported due to his discriminatory practice of turning people over to ICE.
In 2022 the VISION Act will come before the state senate once again. This law will prevent any law enforcement agent from turning people over to ICE after they are released from prison. The state prisons are the worst offenders in this: 80% of people in ICE detention are there because local and state police and prison officials are working with ICE. The VISION Act will end this practice.
Phoeun You, a Cambodian refugee is due to be released from San Quentin State Prison in late December or early January. Phoeun is an incredible leader and has supported many folks in coming home from prison. He is one of the founding members of ROOTS, an ethnic studies based course, inside of San Quentin. Despite serving over 25 yrs, being found suitable for parole, & giving back to his community, Phoeun You, a Cambodian genocide survivor, and refugee is facing ICE arrest. Stop this double punishment against Phoeun. @GavinNewsom #ProtectPhoeun and #StopICETransfers now!
ABOLISH ICE once and for always!