After $32,500 lawsuit, Madera County vows to keep ICE away from jail

Foreign nationals are arrested in 2017 during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles.
Foreign nationals are arrested in 2017 during a targeted enforcement operation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Los Angeles.

After being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, Madera County officials are vowing to distance their local jail from federal immigration agencies.

The county and the ACLU reached a settlement last month following allegations that Madera County's board of supervisors violated open meeting laws last year by taking action in closed session to increase law enforcement's cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The settlement cost taxpayers $32,500 in attorney fees, according to a Madera County spokeswoman .

The lawsuit was prompted by an order by Madera County District Attorney David Linn to Chief of Corrections Manuel Perez to fully comply with all ICE requests and to inform agents when the county jail is holding undocumented immigrants, according to the lawsuit. Until then, like many jails across the state, the Madera jail had not proactively informed ICE about undocumented inmates, the suit said.

At a Madera County Board of Supervisors meeting last week, Perez assured the public that it is not working closely with ICE and has no communication with the agency unless fingerprinted inmates are identified by a federal database.

"People ask, 'Chief Perez, do you cooperate with ICE?' It's one of those questions where I want to make very clear what the term 'cooperation' means. ICE agents want full access to the individuals that are incarcerated. They want the ability to come and interview (inmates)..." Perez said. "The answer is no, we do not cooperate. We follow the guidelines. Madera County is following the law."

As part of the settlement, Perez was required to publicly present existing jail policies regarding ICE. Perez said that the county abides by the sanctuary state law passed last year, which prohibits local law enforcement from holding undocumented inmates based on their immigration status and sharing their personal information.

"If an individual comes in on an arrest, it’s a local arrest. We don’t communicate with ICE. We don’t call them. We don’t do anything," Perez said. "The local enforcement agency is not legally required to respond (to ICE requests) and even federal law does not mandate a response. This is where local agencies have some discretion to respond to ICE."

On national TV last week, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims spoke out against the sanctuary state laws and said that ICE helps keep communities safe. “Because we cannot talk to ICE about certain people in our jails, they are free to go out and re-commit crimes," she said then. "We’re creating additional victims.”

The Madera County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take a vote on the report on March 27.

Minerva Mendoza, an associate with the Pan Valley Institute in Fresno, said when local law enforcement works with ICE, it hurts community trust of police and prevents immigrants from reporting crimes.

"Unless our country adopts immigration reform that allows millions of hard-working members of our community to continue to come out of the shadows, the counties should not be engaged with immigration enforcement," she said at Tuesday's meeting.

Adrienne Calip, with the county's public information office, said board members declined to comment, citing the upcoming vote on the matter.

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays