Let Me Tell You Why I Removed ICE from the County Jails​

By Alex Villanueva
December 6, 2021

One of the central themes of my grassroots, underdog challenge to my predecessor was to remove ICE from the County jails. Our motivation was simple – we needed to improve community relations in immigrant communities where crime is high, and witnesses are reluctant to come forward. We also wanted the victims of domestic violence to feel comfortable reporting crime without fear that their families would become separated. There are excellent public safety benefits to maintaining trust with the local undocumented population. Like the vaccines against COVID-19, public safety requires support and partnership from a vast majority of the people, not just some. We cannot have a significant portion of our population afraid to report being victims of or witnesses to a crime. Criminals know many of the undocumented in Los Angeles fear being deported and separated from their families and target them, especially street vendors.

As a man of God, I am also against separating children from their parents. I do not support deporting parents who will eventually be found innocent, are guilty of minor non-violent offenses and have fully paid their debt to society. There are many remarkable stories of rehabilitation. The American taxpayer’s cost of providing aid to families living in poverty due to the loss of a head of household is tremendous. It is easy to say, “cut them off,” but none of us want to be the one denying a child urgent care or a breakfast pancake. At least I don’t.

The County government is deaf to the needs of immigrants. For years they have been fully collaborating with ICE. This includes telling ICE where the undocumented live. For ten years, the Board of supervisors authorized my predecessors and the conservative old guard County Executive staff to selling data on the undocumented for over $122,000000. The program ended as soon as I discovered it existed, including rejecting the $3M that we were slated to receive for the new year. What is even worse is the number of immigrants deported after being handed over to ICE by the LA County jails system. Yes, the Sheriff’s department. Until my first day in office, ICE agents gathered the undocumented from our jails and courts like fishing for fish in a barrel. I kicked ICE out of jails on day one and went further. My initial position on removing ICE agents from our jails and stations was simply about the legal requirements for SB 54, which greatly limited those handed over to ICE.

As COVID began to spread in the Federal immigrant detentions centers, I was concerned I was sentencing people to death, especially those vulnerable to COVID. Moved by the horrible conditions immigrant children and families experienced in detention, I decided to implement a moratorium on all transfers to ICE. That ban on ICE transfers is now permanent. I believe this is one of the reasons the political establishment has attacked me. My policies shame them for at best inaction, and worst anti-immigrant policies. The truth is, before my administration, the Los Angeles County jail system was one of the largest single deporting jail systems in the nation. The Board only woke to the plight of its own immigrants AFTER our leadership and bold action.

As our LA County jail system led the nation in transfers to ICE, neither the “oversight body” nor the Inspector General said, much less did, anything to stem the transfers that lead to deportations. They stood silent and watched as families were separated. I stopped it. The results of our ban on ICE transfers are enormous. We see it in the manner in which we speak to residents on the street day in and day out. Trust is back! But more importantly, the reporting of domestic violence in many communities is up double digits. We have also monitored recidivism which we have learned is far less than that of their US Citizen or Resident counterparts. The myth of the rampant criminal immigrant turns out to be, well, a myth.

We must move beyond the culture wars of the past. We are already a divided nation, state, and county. I am willing to take ideas and support from anyone interested in helping make LA beautiful, friendly, prosperous, and safe. It is time we stop fighting for what divides us and unite around solutions to our most pressing problems, a rise in crime and out-of-control homelessness. Together, we can do this!

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