The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department has run the Mira Loma Detention Center, one of the largest immigration jails in the state, for more than a decade. But next month, the center is scheduled to close because Sheriff Lee Baca and federal authorities can't agree on the basic rules governing how the jail should operate.
There are several areas of disagreement between the two sides. But in general, the Department of Homeland Security deserves praise for fulfilling its pledge to hold immigration jailers like Baca accountable and for imposing standards to ensure that the tens of thousands of immigrants across the country, including asylum seekers, are being treated fairly and humanely.
The proposed standards are modest. They require jailers to provide basic access to medical care and legal assistance, and offer some minimal safeguards intended to relieve conditions that have led to dozens of detainee deaths nationwide since 2003, as well as to allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by detention center guards and staff.
The Sheriff's Department says some of the new rules are simply too expensive to comply with and conflict with deputies' privacy rights. The department says it can't afford, for example, to provide the medical services outlined in the 2008 detention standards, including X-rays and mental healthcare screenings, without charging the Department of Homeland Security more money. Nor can it provide additional office space to officials assigned to serve as monitors at the facility without another fee increase. And Homeland Security's request to investigate deputies' use of force against detainees is off-limits because it could conflict with the California Peace Officer's Bill of Rights that protects deputies' personnel records, according to the department,
The sheriff was within his rights to ask for more money to cover any new costs associated with the standards. The county shouldn't be asked to shoulder the burden of federal immigration enforcement. But it is also true that the sheriff's track record at Mira Loma isn't without problems, and greater accountability could help. A 2012 inspection by Homeland Security concluded that the facility has had serious problems complying even with existing standards, and raised questions about how detainee grievances are handled. The report found that one deputy is currently under investigation by the sheriff's internal affairs division for allegedly throwing out complaints filed by immigrants.
Under the circumstances, the Obama administration was absolutely right to seek tougher standards, even if it ultimately leads to closing the facility and sending detainees elsewhere.