The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to extend a controversial partnership with federal immigration authorities designed to target potentially deportable immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes.
The board voted 3-0 to extend the contract after a tense hearing in which dozens of activists blamed the program for eroding trust in law enforcement among immigrant communities.
The program, known as 287(g), places federal immigration agents inside county jails and trains jail employees to investigate whether inmates convicted of certain crimes are in the country illegally. Inmates identified through the program are often turned over to federal authorities after they are released from jail.
Supervisors Gloria Molina, Don Knabe and Michael Antonovich voted to approve the agreement. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.
Yaroslavsky said he wanted to see more data on the program, saying quarterly reports produced by the Sheriff's Department since 2010 have been "superficial."
He held up a one-page report sent to the board in August that he said included little more than the number of interviews conducted by ICE-trained jail employees (339 during a three-month period that ended July 31), and called for more detail about what crimes individuals identified through the program had been convicted of.
During Tuesday's hearing, advocates said a host of immigrants without serious criminal records have found themselves in deportation proceedings because of 287(g).
Blanca Perez, 34, told the board that she ended up in ICE custody after being arrested for illegally selling ice cream bars outside her son's school in Van Nuys. Perez, a Mexican immigrant who came to the country illegally, said she was transferred from a jail facility to an ICE detention center after an L.A. County sheriff's deputy questioned her about her immigration status.
"Please end this program," she told the supervisors. "It separates families."
Molina, who has been one of the staunchest supporters of 287(g), said her office would investigate the circumstances of Perez's case. She said serious criminals, not people like Perez, are the program's intended targets.
"We are not here picking up people who are selling lollipops," she said. "We are trying to find a way to make L.A. County safe."
Immigration officials said they could not provide immediate data on how many ICE detainees were identified through the county jail system or what types of crimes those individuals had been convicted of.
A 2010 Migration Policy Institute study of the county's implementation of the program found that of 2,874 federal requests to hold potentially deportable inmates that year, only about a fifth were issued against so-called Level One offenders, which include those convicted of murder, rape and kidnapping.
The rest were issued against people who had committed less serious offenses, including traffic violations, the study found.
Across the country, state and local governments have been reconsidering their relationship with federal immigration officials. The number of law enforcement jurisdictions participating in 287(g) has decreased from 75 to 35 in recent years, according to ICE officials. The only other jurisdiction in California to participate in the program is Orange County.
Several advocates had asked that lawmakers delay the vote until a new sheriff is elected and sworn in. Both candidates vying in the November election to replace interim Sheriff John Scott have voiced opposition to the program.
After the board voted to approve the contract, the board chambers erupted in jeers as immigrant advocates shouted "Molina deports!" in unison. Earlier in the meeting, about 60 advocates stood up and turned their backs to lawmakers for more than an hour in a silent protest.