by Kimberly Rivers
On Tuesday, Oct. 12, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors will hear an update from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office (VCSO) on its interactions and cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) over the past year. The update is mandated by state law, and must take place each year that the sheriff has a policy in place to work with ICE, but this year the update will include something new.
“This year something new will be on the agenda,” said Willie Lubka, a Thousand Oaks resident and executive director of Buen Vecino, a project fiscally sponsored by the Alliance for Global Justice. The project is a member of the ICE Out of Ventura County coalition, which includes One Step a la Vez and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) and several other local community organizations.
On Oct. 12 the ICE Out coalition will be on the agenda along with the VCSO, allowing the coalition equal time to present information about the impacts of the VCSO working with ICE to identify, detain and deport residents of Ventura County.
Lubka explained that state law (AB2792, TRUTH Act) “requires the sheriff departments who have a policy of cooperating with ICE to report to their county supervisors each year about the data and policies.” And while he said that is a good thing, he explained that in previous years, the public and organizations only have the short public comment time to respond, refute or provide additional information to the supervisors. According to Lubka, in the past it seemed public comment was “brushed aside.” He hopes this presentation, being on the agenda, will mean the supervisors and the sheriff give it more attention.
The change this year came about because the coalition was able to view many TRUTH Act Forums around the state during the pandemic. A silver lining of the virtual meeting requirements meant that anyone, anywhere could view these forums. Lubka and others in Ventura County saw that in other counties, community organizations and other advocates for those targeted by ICE had a true voice in those meetings and were given the same amount of time to present as local law enforcement.
Lubka said the coalition asked the county for the same, and they got it.
State restrictions on ICE
Today California has a body of laws that lay out when and how local law enforcement agencies can work with ICE. These laws primarily restrict that interaction, with the goal of providing transparency and ensuring time and money that should be going to local law enforcement activities are not being diverted to federal activities.
Prior to these laws, local law enforcement had the discretion to provide information to ICE officers regarding people of interest, and/or those arrested in the course of law enforcement activities in the county and cities. This could result in ICE having direct access to a person being held in local jail for charges related to violating a local crime, even prior to being convicted.
Recent laws disallowed those close dealings, including prohibiting ICE from having offices in sheriff departments.
But they do allow that the VCSO can provide ICE with information, when requested, about when a resident of Ventura County, who was arrested, otherwise detained and/or served jail time for a local crime, was being released. ICE officers could then be on site to detain that person, to begin deportation proceedings.
In 2016 the Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act became state law and requires local police and/or sheriff’s departments who are opting to provide information to ICE to inform the person in question that ICE was requesting to interview them and obtain written consent for the local agency to make that person available to ICE while they were in custody with local law enforcement. The law also makes records of these events subject to the California Public Records Act, meaning they can be viewed by any member of the public.
The TRUTH Act also requires local agencies to report to the county and the public on their interactions with ICE each year, hence TRUTH Act Forums. This aspect of the law is an attempt to provide transparency and accountability. Another aspect the act tries to address is the undermining of community policing, and the diversion of local funds for enforcing federal laws, when law enforcement becomes entangled with federal ICE activity.
Lubka pointed out that if the IRS asked the Ventura County Sheriff to enforce back tax payments, “we’d say that’s not his job.” Why is ICE any different?
In 2017, the state passed Senate Bill 54, which prohibited local law enforcement from informing federal ICE authorities when a person arrested on drug-related charges was suspected of not being a U.S. citizen, something that was allowed prior to the law’s passage. SB54 also prohibits all state and local law enforcement agencies — including school police and security agencies (all grades, including state colleges and universities) — from “using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”
The state’s TRUST Act already prohibited local law enforcement from holding a person on the basis of immigration violations upon being released from custody. There are some instances when a person can be detained by local police on immigration violations, for example, when the person has already been convicted of specific crimes.
Lubka explained that together these laws are so important because they seek to dismantle “two systems of justice, based on skin color and where you were born. Normally someone serves their time and goes home, not serves their time and gets deported.”
Discrepancies in data
“Here, locally, we want our supervisors to direct the sheriff to terminate their cooperation with ICE,” said Lubka about the aim of ICE Out. “In a perfect world, on Oct. 12, the supervisors would take action, but it’s more likely for them to take it under advisement. They can make a resolution . . . and use their budgeting power [to prevent money from being used] to pay staff time for cooperating with ICE.”
Lubka also pointed out that there are questions about the numbers. Recently the VCSO updated the information posted online related to its ICE interactions. That information “states that in 2020, there were zero ICE pickups in the county, and in 2021, through the end of June, there has been one.”
But Lubka said that the California Attorney General website reports that in 2020, ICE made 13 pickups in Ventura County.
The VCSO website includes the statement, “Those who commit qualifying serious crimes and are eligible for ICE referrals should have their immigration status reviewed. This process has been in place for years and is compliant with the Values Act (SB 54) and the TRUTH Act.”
Data listed includes 587 “detainers received” from ICE related to people in custody in the county during 2020. Of those, the VCSO provided 123 “release notifications” to ICE, with the VCSO listing zero ICE pickups being reported. For 2021 through June, 131 detainers have been received, with 35 release notifications issued to ICE, and one confirmed ICE pickup after issuing a detainer to VCSO.
“That could be due to different definitions, but I can say there is a variance from the Attorney General report.” Lubka hopes the sheriff addresses that discrepancy on Oct. 12.
“This is a trauma,” Lubka said, describing how families feel when going about their daily lives knowing that someone in their family may be subject to being detained by ICE at any time. He noted that these are people getting their kids to school, going to work and getting food on the table. Many have lived in the community for decades.
While Lubka understands what is being reported, he suspects, based on what he and others have seen, that something else outside the official reporting may be taking place.
“There are instances where after a release from jail, ICE picks them up within a couple of days. Whether there is cooperation on those instances is foggy, but we believe collusion is going on.”
One example shared by Lubka involved a local man who had served time in the Ventura County Jail. The man and his family were notified that the release date and time had been given to ICE.
“The coalition was there to witness what occurred. But there was no sign of ICE,”
Lubka said. He gave the man a ride home, and then, “He had a visit from his parole officer three or four days later and within a few hours of the visit, ICE picked up the man at his home for deportation.”
ICE Out submitted a Public Records Act (PRA) request for records and/or communications between the parole department and ICE. “We were told ‘we don’t know of any records,’ and in order to find out [if they exist] it will cost over $1,000.”
When the coalition submitted a PRA request “about the exact accounting of taxpayer dollars going to staff time and other expenses for the sheriff to work with ICE, we were told that doesn’t exist, ‘we don’t track it.’ The supervisors are responsible for the budget. It seems like a failure of fiscal stewardship to not track that.”
Lubka expects the current policy of collaborating with ICE to be defended. Responses he and other community advocates have heard include that the current policy impacts a very small number of people, so the overall effect is very little.
“The trauma is a bigger deal when it’s you, right?” said Lubka.
He also said the VCSO frequently points only to those who are convicted of the most violent crimes, when most are detained for lower crimes — things that other county residents commit, and serve time for, and then return to their families.
Lubka emphasized that these policies “undermine all of our safety and the work of law enforcement,” by making community members wary of reporting crimes, or talking to local law enforcement if they or a family member may not be a citizen.
He understands these policies have been in place locally for a long time and the coalition is not seeking to “vilify the sheriff,” but expressed hope that the supervisors will seek a change in policy. ICE Out sent a letter to the VCSO on Sept. 8 seeking a meeting to discuss policy changes going forward, and the sheriff has agreed to meet, said Lubka. They will meet after the Oct. 12 forum.
The Ventura County TRUTH Act Forum is scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 4:30 p.m. The meeting will be held virtually and streamed live. Spanish and Mixteco interpretation services will be provided. Public comment will take place; those wishing to comment must register online at www.ventura.org/boscomment.
Written comments are also accepted. ONLINE CORRECTION (10/7/21, 3:23 p.m.) According to a representative from the Clerk of the Boards office written comments will be accepted, in accordance with new state laws that went into effect on Oct. 1., and require written comments to be accepted throughout the agenda item until the item is either voted on, or is otherwise concluded. For written comments to be distributed to Supervisors prior to the item, the Clerk’s office requests comments be submitted by noon on the day of the meeting. Submit written comments to: email@example.com or mailed to: Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura, CA, 93009-1920.
For further information regarding this forum, please contact Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office at 805-654-2417.