Jeff Jardine

ICE agents regulars to Stanislaus County jail, but few undocumented criminals get deported

On Martin Luther King Day, Modesto immigration attorney Patrick Kolasinski received a phone call regarding a client at the Stanislaus County jail.

The client, an undocumented immigrant, had been arrested on a relatively minor charge. He’d posted bond the previous Saturday only to have U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement place a 48-hour hold on him.

“But ICE had dragged their feet,” Kolasinski said. “They (jail officials) were going to hold him until Tuesday, and the 48 hours was up on Monday.”

Kolasinski pointed this out to the sheriff’s sergeant who reviewed the established procedures, recognized the error and released the client, who is still awaiting arraignment.

“They followed the protocol and let my guy go,” he said.

Keep in mind that Stanislaus is not a sanctuary county. But rules are rules. California’s Trust Act and Truth Act established them and as frustrating as it might be to Sheriff Adam Christianson and others in law enforcement, his department follows them.

Immigration is a controversial and emotional issue, from President Donald Trump’s proposed wall on the Mexican border to ICE raids in various parts of the country to breaking up families to the impacts deportations could have on agribusiness.

Trump labels illegal immigrants as prime sources of violent crimes, which fuels cries by some to deport all undocumented immigrants. But that is not so easy, and especially not in California where undocumented inmates can refuse to talk to ICE agents, thanks to the Truth Act. Nor can ICE request that local agencies look out for and detain them after a federal judge in Oregon ruled detainers are unconstitutional because, unlike arrest warrants, they do not involve judicial review.

“You’re here illegally, committing crimes, and you’re still extended the rights of the Constitution,” Christianson said.

Last week, a story by Capitol Public Radio revisited the working relationships between ICE and the Fresno County jail. The story gave Stanislaus County a mention as being among others in California that allow ICE agents into its jail. Fresno County drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, The Fresno Bee reported, because it didn’t have written agreements or contracts between the department and ICE, and employed other questionable practices.

The Stanislaus County jail, though, has avoided the ACLU’s circumspection. Why? Because the department long ago established procedures and protocols for dealing with immigrants who come through the jail, and for working with the ICE agents on the lookout for deportable criminals. Staff is trained to understand the rules.

“I’ve worked with (ACLU representatives),” Christianson said. “We give them unfettered access. I walked a guy from the ACLU through the jail and told him, ‘Talk to anyone you want.’ I’d rather have an ally than an adversary.”

File a public information request to obtain those documents and you will get them, Christianson said and Kolasinski verified.

“Absolutely,” Kolasinski said. “I’ve filed records requests and they delivered.”

Christianson said ICE agents are in the county’s jails nearly every day. But relatively few inmates end up being deported. Stanislaus County jail staff booked 18,902 people in 2016. Of those, 127 qualified for ICE holds and 71 were released to ICE.

“Nothing’s changed,” he said. “We’re doing exactly what we did for eight years under Obama.”

Which is to check every single inmate’s immigration status upon booking, using multiple databases including the FBI’s. If a suspect is undocumented, has a criminal record and is charged with a serious or violent crime, ICE can place a hold to pick the inmate up upon release or completion of a jail sentence.

Former President Barack Obama deported 5.2 million immigrants during his two terms, and pro-immigrant groups dubbed him “Deporter in Chief.” Yet, Obama deported only half as many as other two-termers George W. Bush (10.3 million) and Bill Clinton (12.3 million).

When inmates are turned over to ICE, they are taken to one of four holding facilities in Northern California: Marysville, Elk Grove, Mesa Verde and Richmond. But Kolasinski said he doesn’t know of a single recent detainee by ICE, likely due to a lack of space. The Marysville facility had to be evacuated during the Oroville Dam spillway collapse. That forced the agency to relocate those inmates to other facilities.

Those who get legal representation stay in the country until their cases are resolved, which can take many years. And those who don’t?

“They can be in Tijuana in two months,” Kolasinski said.

Said Christianson, “We’re going to continue to work with the federal government. I don’t believe the Trust Act builds trust. It protects criminals.”

But like them or not, rules are rules.