Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday voted to unanimously to uphold a controversial program that allows local cops to screen inmates entering the jail system to determine their immigration status. During the city council meeting, some 60 immigrant advocates stood and turned their backs on county lawmakers for more than an hour in a silent protest, the L.A. Times reports.
Los Angeles becomes one of two counties in the state to retain the controversial inmate-screening program, known as 287(g). Supporters say the program helps identify criminals that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) missed, but advocates say the program unfairly puts undocumented immigrants with low-priority cases into deportation hearings.
Dozens of people spoke out against the 287(g) program, noted KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas, including Blanca Perez, 34, who told the board “she ended up in ICE custody after being arrested for illegally selling ice cream bars outside her son's school,” the L.A. Times reported.
Their protest was overridden by city supervisors Don Knabe, Michael Antonovich and Gloria Molina—the first Latina to be elected to the city council—who voted to extend the program. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained, according to the L.A. Times reports.
Immigration advocates walked out of the administration hall in silent protest.
"There is no reason for ICE to be in L.A. jails. Period," Luis Ojeda, from the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, said in a statement. "Particularly for the Supervisors who are primarily motivated by public safety considerations, this should be an easy vote as there is a mountain of evidence that 287(g) has undermined community safety."
Former Los Angeles Police Department Chief William J. Bratton opposed 287(g), saying the program prevented some members of the community from coming forward with information that could help solve crimes.
His concerns are backed by polling data. A 2013 study found that 44 percent of Latinos surveyed reported they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime out of fear the officers will inquire about their immigration status.
“My officers can’t prevent or solve crimes if victims or witnesses are unwilling to talk to us because of the fear of being deported,” he said in a 2009 editorial.
The program has also raised constitutional concerns. Earlier this year a federal judge declared that an Oregon county "violated one woman’s Fourth Amendment rights by holding her for immigration authorities without probable cause."
"The 287(g) program will likely be terminated at the federal level, and we will work with the next Sheriff and the new Board to ensure Los Angeles County takes appropriate steps to restore trust in law enforcement, respect civil rights, and protect all residents," Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement.