Outside, protestors were holding signs that read “illegal and unafraid.” Inside, police officers were patting down incoming community members and scanning for weapons with metal detectors.
The board of supervisors expected conflict as evidenced by the peace officers’ also lining the walls, forming an intimidating ring around the audience.
As people took their seats they formed a clear divide. Near the front, predominantly older and white attendees held signs condemning a sanctuary state, while the back of the room was filled with people of color wearing t-shirts that read “ICE Out of Tulare County.”
The forum opened by reviewing AB-2972 (TRUTH Act), which requires local jails to inform immigrants of their essential rights and provide written consent before being interviewed by ICE. The board of supervisors then provided some statistics released by the Tulare County Probation Department, before allowing the public to speak.
According to the probation department, 204 requests were received from ICE, while 107 inmates were transferred to ICE. Out of the 137 that were not transferred to ICE, 79 requests did not meet the statutory requirements and ICE was denied access. 58 requests did meet the statutory requirements, but ICE was not granted access because these inmates either posted bail or are currently pending trial for serious crimes
Opposers of the Truth Act were concerned that the law would prevent local law enforcement from handing undocumented criminals over to ICE.
“We’re not against immigration and we’re not against migrant families,” A Visalia resident said. “We just want sheriff Boudreaux to have the support and the ability to enforce the laws and keep everyone safe in our community…This TRUTH Act I feel like ties his hands…He has to have the ability to be able to transfer that criminal to the hands of ICE without releasing them into the community.”
Supporters of the TRUTH Act were more concerned about increasing transparency and “shining a light” on the relationship between local law enforcement and ICE. Maricela Sanchez, a Central Valley mobilization and civic engagement assistant for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), gave a joint statement with the Coalition of Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).
“We as a coalition, along with the rest of Tulare County, need to hold Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and his department accountable for involvement in deportations and for their involvement in family separations.”
She then asked a couple of important questions meant for Sheriff Boudreaux:
- What was the Sheriff’s office process for releasing a person from custody and how long did that process take?
- Who from the Sheriff’s office is responsible for notifying ICE?
Sheriff Boudreaux was not present to address questions and concerns so the TRUTH forum became less of a discussion about legislation and more like a stage for the community to vent on for two minutes about their beliefs on immigration, a topic that has proved to be very divisive.
As the sense of division grew with each speaker, some less rehearsed members of the audience felt the urge to remind the community why they were holding the forum in the first place.
“The purpose of today’s forum is not to create division,” ACLU Lawyer Maria Romani said, “the purpose of today’s forum is to inform the public about what’s happening…We were shown some numbers, but they are not complete. We don’t know how often ICE requests to interview people and how often those folks are turned over to ICE for interviews.”
Raul Garcia, a resident of Porterville, advocated for a more nuanced understanding of our current immigration laws and our immigrant community. “It feels like [immigrant issues] are a ‘us versus them’ mentality, when we need to get together and understand that in SB 54 there are exceptions…It’s not like someone who’s undocumented murders someone and the next day they are released into the street…Whether people are documented or undocumented, they just want to have normal day-to-day lives…Those in our undocumented community believe ‘yeah, the criminals get them out of here.’ And with SB 54 there are ways to get them out of here.”
The law states that at least one public forum of this nature must be held every year. That box has been checked, but is it enough to ease our community’s worries? Judging by what happened in that room, it’s very unlikely.
Romani believes more needs to be done to ensure the public is properly informed, specifically when it comes to the information presented. It is unclear what “statutory requirements” were not met to deny ICE access. And there was no mention of written consent forms given to detainees before being interviewed by ICE. Data, she believes, we should have been given under the TRUTH Act.
“Tulare County is the only county that has held this forum and hasn’t given space to community members to give a presentation on what the law is because there’s a lot of misinformation…If we had an advocate or someone from the community that knows the law to give a presentation and really just tell the public these are the requirements under the law, I would hope that would demystify the confusion and debunk some of the myths that were spread today.”