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California cities show stark differences on immigration

April 9, 2017 at 3:09 PM EDT
The Trump administration announced in March its plans to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities like San Francisco, which limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. Other cities, like Fresno, are more cooperative with federal authorities. NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Joanne Elgart Jennings reports on the showdown.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Fresno County, in the heart of California’s Central Valley, is best known for its agricultural products and the vast majority of people picking those crops are immigrants from Mexico and Central America. More than half of Fresno County’s one million residents are Latino, and about 85-thousand are estimated to be undocumented. Like this woman we agreed to call “Gloria,” a farm worker who came to the U.S. as a teenager 20 years ago.

GLORIA: I left my family behind, my parents, my brothers, in Mexico, so I could come here to work. I’ve continued to work and never stopped. It’s heavy, heavy labor.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Even though the work is hard, Gloria says, she has a good life with her three American-born kids. But she’s afraid she might lose it all.

GLORIA: I fear that AT any moment I can be separated from my children.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Gloria says many immigrants in Fresno are nervous about local law enforcement working with Federal Agents from Immigration, Customs and Enforcement – or “ICE.” This highly publicized “ICE” operation in February, resulting in 160 arrests in Los Angeles exacerbated those fears. It took place less than two weeks after President Trump signed his executive order broadening the types of individuals targeted for deportation.

AIDA MACEDO: If you get deported by ICE, Child Protective Services cannot take custody of your children if you have somebody in charge.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Lawyers like Aida Macedo have fanned out across the county providing “know your rights” trainings for immigrants.

AIDA MACEDO: I think the community is just, to put it simply, is afraid to just be outside, to go outside. They’re afraid to be in trouble for a broken tail light. They’re afraid to be even close to a local law enforcement jail or place or anything like that.

CORRECTIONS OFFICER: Arms straight down

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: At the Fresno County Jail, one of the first questions corrections officers will ask a new inmate is: “where were you born?” Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says it’s one way she’s cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

SHERIFF MIMS: So if they state a country other than the United States, that’s where ICE will take a look and determine their legality in the country.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: ICE typically makes “detainer requests” — asking local law enforcement to hold inmates suspected of immigration violations for up to two days beyond their scheduled release date.

But that practice has been successfully challenged in court. So, instead, Mims now gives ICE agents access to the county jail’s database of bookings and criminal histories and allows ICE agents to interview inmates.

MARGARET MIMS: At one time, all sheriffs in California respected the detainers and complied. Now, no sheriffs in California comply with those detainers. So I had a meeting with our local ICE office. And I said, “Well let me make it as easy as possible. You come into our jail where you can do your work and it will prevent somebody violent or a serious criminal from being released.”

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: The jail informs all inmates of the procedure at booking.

OFFICER: This is just notifying you that ICE will be looking at everybody’s records that comes in here, okay?

MAN: Alright.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Since Fresno started this in 2015, ICE has taken custody of more than 330 individuals right from the jail. Angelica Salceda, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, says the program violates due process rights.

ANGELICA SALCEDA: There’s a lack of transparency. There are no written contract. There’s no policies or practices that are associated with that program, so the community has no way to keep the Sheriff accountable or know how that program is supposed to operate, including the limits or restrictions that ICE might have within her jail.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Sheriff Mims believes giving ICE access to inmates reduces the number of federal immigration raids and arrests on the streets of Fresno.

MARGARET MIMS: If we don’t take people into custody here and allow ICE to do their job, the only other alternative that ICE has is to go out into the communities to do their work. This is perfect place for ICE to able to do their work to identify those that they need take into their custody and get them out of the country or at least involved in the process.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Jorge Galicia is one of the undocumented immigrants in the Fresno County Jail who ended up in ICE custody. After a February arrest, ICE agents determined his four drunk driving convictions made him eligible for deportation and sent him back to Mexico. I reached him in Mexico City.

JORGE GALICIA: When I was at the Fresno jail, I didn’t know I was going to be detained by ICE. I was talking to an officer who I thought was my probation officer.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Galicia says his wife and daughter, both American citizens, are struggling without him and his income as an iron worker.

JORGE GALICIA: I lost my health insurance through work, because I stopped working when I was locked up and detained. My wife has high blood pressure, and she can’t pay for her medication which is too expensive.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Last month, the Federal Board of Immigration denied Galicia’s request to reverse his deportation order, saying his drunk driving was “…Putting lives and safety of others at risk.”

Two hundred miles west of Fresno, in San Francisco, local law enforcement has a different approach. It’s been a so-called “sanctuary city” for 30 years, meaning it does not get involved with enforcement of Federal immigration laws. Dennis Herrera, San Francisco’s City Attorney says sanctuary policies make all of the city’s residents safer.

DENNIS HERRERA: There’s been absolutely no doubt that it has promoted cooperation between immigrant communities and police and law enforcement. Over the course of three decades, we have seen a dramatic increase in the amount of people that are willing to report; that are willing to step up as to be witnesses.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: That was the case for Eva, who asked us not to use her full name. She was severely abused by her ex-husband, a legal permanent resident who warned her not to go to the police.

EVA: He would tell me things like, “Don’t go outside because there’s immigration,” so I thought the regular police were immigration police.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: He was convicted and sentenced to probation. Eva later obtained legal status and works as an after-school teacher.

EVA: I want to tell all those women who have been violated by those men, yes, we can continue to stand up for ourselves because this will always be a sanctuary city.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: During his campaign, President Trump railed against sanctuary cities and called attention to a 2015 shooting death in San Francisco.

DONALD TRUMP: Another victim is Kate Steinle. Gunned down in the sanctuary city of San Francisco, by an illegal immigrant, deported five previous times. And they knew he was no good.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Steinle’s alleged killer, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez, had been released from jail days before the shooting, because San Francisco, as a sanctuary city, had declined to honor a detainer request from ICE.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: City Attorney Dennis Herrera says if ICE had been serious about apprehending Lopez Sanchez, it could have tried to obtain an arrest warrant from a judge.

DENNIS HERRERA: They could have asked for, come to us with the court order say they were interested and follow the processes that would have allowed him to be turned over. And they didn’t.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: ICE declined Newshour Weekend’s requests for an interview. But in a written statement, a spokesperson said, in part: “…ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States…”

JEFF SESSIONS: “When cities and states refuse to help enforce immigration laws, our nation is less safe.”

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Just two weeks ago, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Federal Government would start to withhold funds from sanctuary cities that don’t cooperate with ICE. Herrera has filed a lawsuit to block that.

DENNIS HERRERA: Somewhere between $1.2 and $2 billion of our nearly $10 billion budget comes from the Federal Government. This is vitally important to the interest of San Francisco as a city, to residents of our city whether they are immigrant or nonimmigrant.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Now, the Democrats who control the State Legislature in Sacramento have upped the ante. A bill called SB-54, which passed the California Senate this week, would essentially create a sanctuary state, it would bar law enforcement from helping Federal immigration officials. California State Senate Leader Kevin Deleon is the bill’s sponsor. He’s also the son of a single mother who was once an undocumented immigrant.

KEVIN DELEON: It was a very simple measure, is to make sure that our local tax dollars are not utilized to be a cog in the Trump deportation machine. We’re cognizant that the Federal Government has all the authority to enforce immigration law, but we want to make it very clear that we won’t lift a single finger or spend a single cent to separate children from their mothers or mothers from their children.

JOEL ANDERSON: Those felons are bad guys. They should not ever become U.S. citizens. They deserve to be deported.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: Republican State Senator Joel Anderson strongly opposes the bill, saying it will protect undocumented felons.

JOEL ANDERSON: I think that this bill is a departure from what California has done up to now with the felons first. We have in the past allowed ICE to go into our jails, identify those felons who are deportable, and we have allowed them to deport them.

JOANNE ELGART JENNINGS: The California State Sheriffs’ Association is also fighting the bill.

MARGARET MIMS: It would prohibit me from working with ICE in the jail. To say we can’t communicate with another Federal law enforcement agency it doesn’t make sense. In fact, it would make our communities much less safe.