L.A. County poised to end jail partnership with U.S. immigration agents

L.A. County appears set to sever agreement allowing federal immigration agents inside county jails

Los Angeles County leaders are poised to end a controversial program that places federal immigration agents inside county jails so they can determine whether inmates may be deportable.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion to terminate the program, known as 287(g). The motion is sponsored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas and will probably have the support of a third supervisor, Sheila Kuehl, who has said in the past that she supports ending the program.

The other two supervisors, Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich, say they will oppose the motion.

The county entered into the agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a decade ago. Along with placing immigration agents inside Twin Towers jail, the program trains certain jail employees to act as immigration agents to investigate whether inmates convicted of certain crimes are in the country illegally.

Supporters of the program say it is an essential tool to help identify deportable criminals who pose risks to the community. "It ensures that the dangerous folks who are incarcerated in our jails who are undocumented are promptly identified," said Andrew Veis, a spokesman for Knabe.

Opponents say it results in racial profiling and has landed scores of immigrants who don't have serious criminal records in deportation proceedings.

The number of law enforcement jurisdictions participating in 287(g) has fallen from 75 to 35 in recent years, according to ICE data, as municipalities across the country rethink their cooperation with federal immigration officials. Los Angeles and Orange are the only two counties in California that still participate in the program.

Solis and Kuehl, who were elected to the board last fall, both spoke of ending the program while campaigning. The program had been championed by former Supervisor Gloria Molina, who was replaced by Solis after term limits prevented her from seeking reelection.

Tuesday's motion calls for the county's contract with ICE to be severed, an action that it says "will protect the county from future liability, will free up much needed county resources, and will improve the trust between local law enforcement and the community."

Immigrant advocates, who have fought the program via protests and lawsuits, cheered news that it may soon come to an end. But several said they were skeptical about another part of the motion, which calls for the county to "continue cooperating" with federal officials in implementing a new ICE program in local jails.

The new initiative, the Priority Enforcement Program, was created by President Obama last fall to replace the much-maligned Secure Communities program. Under Secure Communities, ICE officials frequently asked jails to hold inmates who it believed were deportable past the end of their jail sentences so that they could be transferred into federal custody.

Many jurisdictions around the country, including Los Angeles County, stopped cooperating with such requests after a federal court ruling last year that found an Oregon county liable for damages for holding an inmate beyond her release date.

Under the new program, which is expected to be rolled out as soon as next week, local jails will be asked instead to alert ICE officials when deportable immigrants are being released.

Jennie Pasquarella, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said advocates are glad that 287(g) is probably ending.

But, she said, as long as jail employees continue to communicate with immigration agents, "they are seen as entangled in the business of immigration enforcement, and that definitely undermines trust in the Sheriff's Department."

A spokesman for Kuehl said she has concerns about the new program and may not support a motion that includes language that supports it. Representatives for at least three other supervisors said they were likely to back it.

Anna Mouradian, justice deputy for Antonovich, said the supervisor "has always been fully supportive of cooperating with ICE to improve public safety."

kate.linthicum@latimes.com

Twitter: @katelinthicum

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