The American Civil Liberties Union sent Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims a letter urging her to end a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The program allows two ICE agents to work from inside Fresno County Jail. They determine the legal status of inmates and examine their criminal history before deciding whether those in the country illegally should be deported.
As of Friday, agents working in Fresno County Jail had placed 134 immigrants in deportation proceedings. Many already had been deported; the remainder still are in ICE custody.
Eighteen organizations signed the eight-page letter, including Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement. They asked Mims to respond by Dec. 1.
“This plan will erode community trust in Fresno County law enforcement agencies, undermining public safety,” the letter reads.
Local activists have staged several protests against the collaboration since it started June 22. Mims has said the program shouldn’t affect her relationship with immigrants who don’t commit crimes or are victims of crime.
Mims confirmed she received the letter but didn’t appear to be moved by it.
“I believe our partnership with ICE keeps our community safer and it is unrealistic to ask that we not communicate with federal law enforcement agencies,” she said.
ICE agents perform background checks on foreign-born inmates, and have access to inmate records and interview rooms at the jail. Charges for those deported have included gang involvement, burglary, felon in possession of a firearm, domestic violence and driving under the influence.
Before the program’s implementation, ICE filed requests for jail staff to notify the federal agency whenever an immigrant of interest was scheduled to be released. Agents would then decide whether to pick that person up for transport to an immigration detention facility.
The ACLU called the program misguided. Short of removing it, the letter asks Mims to take steps to “minimize the harm to individual rights and public safety.”
Among those steps is limiting ICE’s access to inmates and their records, informing inmates of their rights, ensuring access to an attorney, sharing data publicly and meeting regularly with immigrant advocates.
Fresno was one of the first jurisdictions in the nation to implement such a program. Since then, sheriff’s officials in Monterey, Kern and Los Angeles counties have begun letting ICE agents into their jails to take immigrants into custody directly.