The ACLU in a Friday statement said the Fresno County Board of Supervisors didn’t properly conduct a public forum on the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office’s interactions with federal immigration agents.
On Tuesday, the board held the public forum as required under the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds, better known as the TRUTH Act. It requires local jurisdictions and law enforcement to hold forums to allow the public to know what Immigration and Customs Enforcement is doing in their community.
Fresno County’s forum was the second to be held in the state.
After Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims delivered a report to the board on Tuesday, the meeting was opened to public comment. But Board Chairman Sal Quintero ended the forum after a little over an hour, upsetting some who had hoped to speak.
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Friday, Quintero said he noticed just four or five people who didn’t get a chance to speak.
Many people, some of whom missed work to attend the forum, waited in the hallway as there wasn’t enough space for everyone to sit inside the board’s chambers. Tensions ran high during the forum, especially given the recent rash of ICE arrests at Fresno Superior Court.
Those arrests have sparked concerns among attorneys and immigrant rights advocates over whether the individuals’ rights to due process are being violated.
“Community members have a right to know how their local law enforcement agencies are entangled in ICE’s deportation machine,” Maria Romani, an Immigrants’ Rights Policy Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundations of California, said in the ACLU statement. “The Board of Supervisors failed to give adequate notice, space, or time to truly give Fresno residents a chance to hold Sheriff Mims accountable. The Fresno Community deserves a seat at the table, and the way this forum was held fails to honor California values and the spirit of the TRUTH Act.”
Quintero said organizers planning the forum discussed its format with members of the ACLU in a conference call.
County counsel “may have felt we were in compliance,” Quintero said, adding that there were also discussions with Contra Costa County officials who ran the first forum in the state.
Quintero said he would check with county counsel to see if another forum is possible.
County disagrees with ACLU
Fresno County spokesman Jordan Scott in a statement to The Bee said the county didn’t agree with the ACLU’s assessment: “The County of Fresno understands the frustrations of the ACLU and other parties in regards to the ongoing discussions surrounding immigration in our communities. While we recognize the many challenges of such a sensitive topic, we respectfully disagree with the ACLU’s assessment of the TRUTH Act Forum” in Fresno.
Scott said that because the forum was only the second to be held in the state, Fresno County “went to great lengths to anticipate the unknowns” and accommodate everyone.
Some of those efforts, Scott said, included the planning calls with ACLU representatives and others prior to the meeting as well as scheduling the forum to be the last item on the agenda to allow for more seats to be available, and allow more time for discussion.
Scott said overflow areas were offered to attendees who weren’t able to sit inside the chambers, among other arrangements.
“As the first of its kind in Fresno County and only the second in the State of California, the TRUTH Act Forum offered a learning experience for all involved,” Scott said. “Despite the many efforts to anticipate and accommodate the needs of all parties, there are surely areas where improvement is needed and will be pursued.”