At its most literal, the issue of undocumented immigration is about a piece of paper. Now, in Alameda County, that rings true in more ways than one.
Last month, the Alameda County Sheriff’s office issued a memo to all county detention and corrections personnel stating a change in policy where Alameda County would “no longer accept immigration detainers from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” All undocumented immigrants previously held on such detainers were released, as long as they were not facing criminal charges.
Importantly, the memo made a distinction between “an arrest warrant signed by a judge, and an immigration detainer signed by an ICE Agent.” This distinction is crucial, emphasizes Angela Chan, senior staff attorney for Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus.
“These ICE holds are merely pieces of paper signed by ICE agents,” explains Chan. “They are not reviewed by a judge and there is no finding of probable cause. They are nothing close to a warrant. So for these ICE agents alone, with no judicial authority or review, to be able to ask local police to detain somebody for extra time is a constitutional concern.” In addition, shares Chan, the cost of those federally requested holds were borne out at the local and not the federal level.
The constitutional concern was so great that it recently resulted in two important federal circuit court decisions. The first is the case of Galarza v. Szalczyk in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Decided on March 4, 2014, this case established that ICE holds were voluntary. The second is the case of Maria Miranda-Olivares v. Clackamas County, in Clackamas County, Oregon. Decided on April 11, 2014, this case determined that being detained without probable cause on an ICE hold violates an individual’s constitutional rights. These cases and the potentially serious legal liabilities of continuing to respond to ICE holds spurred the Alameda County Sheriff’s office to action.
This move by Alameda County is an important step forward, part of a growing move by a total of 20 of California’s 58 counties to establish explicit non-enforcement policies on ICE holds. Even so, there is more work to be done, argues Ariana Gil Nafarrate, immigrant rights organizer with Mujeres Unidas y Activas. Because ICE agents, as the memo goes on to affirm, “will still have access to our jails.”
“I think this was a huge step,” Gil Nafarrate says, “and it is what we’ve been working on for the past four years, getting the sheriff to not comply with ICE detainers in Alameda County. The next step is making sure that due process is really respected for all and that collaboration between local law enforcement and immigration ends.”
As the movement for immigration reform in California continues to gain strength, it is all too easy to forget the private “psychic costs” of being young and undocumented, contends Dr. Alberto Ledesma, Graduate Diversity Director at UC Berkeley’s Division of Arts and Humanities. Ledesma has spent years working at UC Berkeley to support undocumented students, drawing on his own past experience of being an undocumented student growing up in East Oakland.
“Though there are a lot of testimonies coming from young people in particular,” he elaborates, “there is not a lot of work that has been done on the psychology or epistemology of the experience of being undocumented. Even as we’re having all of these new laws that are being debated, the public voice around those laws is a voice that typically only people who have citizenship—cultural or legal citizenship—get to engage. And often the people providing testimony who are undocumented immigrants are experiencing that debate in two ways: the external, rhetorical engagement, and the internal grappling with identity.”
Undocumented students like those at UC Berkeley and other local schools are California’s talent base and future leaders, says Ledesma, and moving forward “we need to create safe spaces for the critical mass of [undocumented] students to tell their stories. I think Oakland is a cool place to do that. I think you’ll find a receptive audience there.”