Protesters opposed to ICE in Los Angeles County jails arrested

Three people were arrested in Duarte on Wednesday after blocking an intersection in a protest over local police agencies' collaboration with federal immigration officials.

The arrests were made after a heated a community meeting held by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department about a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement program in local jails.

The Sheriff's Department has been seeking public input about how it should cooperate with ICE's new Priority Enforcement Program, which asks jails to notify federal agents when inmates that it believes are in the county illegally are being released.

The issue has gained national attention in recent weeks after the July 1 shooting death of a woman in San Francisco, allegedly by an immigrant in the country illegally. 

Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who has pleaded not guilty in the slaying of Kate Steinle on San Francisco's Embarcadero, had been released by the San Francisco Sheriff's Department despite a request from ICE that the jail hold him so he could be transferred into federal custody.

Several dozen people from both sides of the immigration debate showed up for the meeting Wednesday night to ask questions of a panel that included officials from the sheriff's department and ICE.

About 30 minutes into the forum, two dozen members of a group called ICE Out of L.A. stood up and filed out into the street. Waving signs and shouting slogans such as "No papers, no fear, immigrants are standing here," they blocked the intersection at Highland Avenue and Huntington Drive.

Sheriff's deputies arrested three protesters who refused to leave the intersection.

One of those detained, 25-year-old Marcela Hernandez, said she was brought to the U.S. illegally from Mexico as a child. She said she was protesting because her uncle was deported after being arrested on drug charges.

"He hasn't seen his U.S. citizen children for five years," Hernandez said. "We should help people rehabilitate instead of deporting them."

Just how much local jails cooperate with federal immigration officials has been a lightning rod issue.

For years, federal agents have frequently requested that jails hold inmates beyond their release dates so ICE can pick them up. After that was deemed unconstitutional by an Oregon court last year, that collaboration came to an abrupt halt in hundreds of jurisdictions nationwide, including Los Angeles.

Under the new ICE program rolled out this month, agents are still able to ask jails to hold inmates, but they can also request that police voluntarily notify them before an inmate’s scheduled release.

In August, Sheriff Jim McDonnell will inform the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors of his decision as to when his department will cooperate with ICE's requests.

Wednesday's meeting was more civil than a previous community meeting on the issue, when advocates from both sides erupted into screaming matches.

Many of those favoring stricter immigration enforcement referenced the San Francisco slaying of Steinle.

"I'm here because of Kate Steinle's death and because I care about illegal aliens being cut lose and let out on the streets," said Mike McGetrick. "When is the next American citizen going to be murdered?"

For immigration news in California, follow @KateLinthicum.

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