Santa Rita Jail Holds 1,000 Immigrants Per Year for ICE

By J. Douglas
Allen Taylor

While the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department is not required by federal law to hold suspected immigration law violators for pickup by federal immigration authorities under the “Secure Communities” program, the county Board of Supervisors has no power to force the sheriff to stop the practice.

That was the general conclusion of a three-hour Board of Supervisors committee hearing on the U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) office’s controversial program held in Oakland last week.
Under “Secure Communities,” which went into effect four years ago, ICE asks for 48-hour holds on close to 1,000 persons a year – over 80 a month-being jailed at the county’s Santa Rita Facility on allegations that those individuals are in the country illegally.

Some 75 percent of the holds turn into detentions by ICE officers, who visit Santa Rita from Monday through Saturday every week for that purpose.

Under federal law, local law enforcement officials are not authorized to make arrests for immigration violations, and the persons being held for possible ICE pickup were incarcerated at Santa Rita on allegations of violation of unrelated state laws.

While the sheriff’s office “is not subordinate to the board when it comes to law enforcement responsibilities, there appears to be a willingness by the sheriff to continue to discuss this issue,” said District 2 County Supervisor Richard Valle (Hayward, Newark, Union City; the northern Fremont and a portion of Sunol), chairperson of the board’s Public Protection Committee, following the hearing.

Valle said the two-member committee, which also includes District 1 Supervisor Scott Haggerty (Dublin, Livermore, most of Fremont, and a portion of Sunol), would report the results of the hearing to the full Board of Supervisors for possible further action.

In addition, Valle said that his office plans to tour Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail later this month in part to further investigate the “Secure Communities” inmate holds at the jail.

Assistant County Sheriff Brett Keteles, who made a presentation at the hearing on the sheriff office’s “immigration hold” policy, agreed that while the sheriff has sole authority over the issue, he “wants to cooperate” with supervisors on possible revisions to the policy.

Although the “Secure Communities” holds are supposed to concentrate on removing persons convicted of major crimes from the country, a representative of the Asian Law Caucus of San Francisco presented information at last week’s hearing to indicate only a quarter of the persons deported nationally through the program have been convicted of violent offenses.

A quarter of the deportees were never convicted of any crime.

Jail officials make no special effort to identify immigration violators on behalf of ICE.

Fingerprints of all arrested individuals are automatically forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for possible additional warrants or charges from other jurisdictions. Part of the FBI screening is to send the fingerprint information to federal immigration authorities.

While operated by the Alameda Sheriff’s Department, Santa Rita houses people arrested by both sheriff’s deputies and city police officers throughout the county.

The arrested individuals have not been convicted, and are being held either for an appearance before a judge or for a full trial.

Close to 40 individuals-including clergy, attorneys, and immigration rights activists and advocates-testified at last Thursday’s hearings against the “Secure Communities” jail holds, many arguing that the federal government should do its own immigration law enforcement work and not rely upon local jurisdictions to hold suspected immigration violators.

They also charged that the immigration holds made immigrant communities “unsecure,” and led directly to the loss of family breadwinners and the breaking up of families.