Respect for immigrants and protecting public safety by ending deportations were dominant public comments during the L.A. County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission’s town hall meeting on immigration at the UCLA Labor Center on Aug. 7.
Dozens filled the site’s National Immigration Law Center for the two-hour dialogue. It was part of the commission’s effort to build trust and better relations between the L.A. County Sheriffs Department (LASD) and the community.
The agenda focused on improvements within the department, as well as conditions within the jails. Commissioners also sought the public’s input on whether or not deputies should wear body cameras.
“Our most important function today is to hear from you, your thoughts and your issues and your concerns, and anything that you would like us, as the Civilian Oversight Commission, to be thinking about and working on,” said Commissioner Rabbi Heather Miller, who chaired the meeting.
Most of the comments from more than 20 public speakers stayed on respect and compassion for immigrants. Some urged support for SB-54 (“The California Values Act”). SB-54 would repeal existing law requiring law enforcement to share with ICE agents the immigration status of anyone arrested for drug offenses.
Several speakers also raised concerns about the Sheriffs Department’s use of drones and alleged they are disproportionately used in Black and Latino communities.
“We know that White supremacy is prevalent in this nation, and how the law enforcement, Sheriff’s Department is another form of White supremacy, in ways of terrorizing and making it harder for people to thrive,” said Zack Mohamed, an organizer with the BAJI – the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which does policy and advocacy work around Black migrants.
He said not only do they unjustly kill individuals, but law enforcement also criminalizes people through the Prison Industrial Complex.
Mohamed said he wants more conversation around how the civilian oversight panel can have more say on the LASD’s budget, and divesting money from the department and putting it into communities where people can prosper.
He questioned how are commissioners really holding deputies accountable, and argued against the department’s use of drones.
According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, the LASD spied on Compton using high-powered surveillance cameras on a small civilian aircraft. A burst of necklace snatchings from women is what prompted filming of the entire city in 2012 without its knowledge, the news agency reported.
“We know that the drones are really going to be used in neighborhoods that I live in, neighborhoods that other Black and Brown people will be living in, and will not be used in Beverly Hills or a lot of these other areas,” Mohamed argued.
Shortly after Miller presented the first set of speakers, Assistant Sheriff Eddie Rivero began his remarks by stating the LASD currently does not have body cameras department wide. It wants to implement them correctly, he stated.
At issue is the cost of the massive project and determining how to store data collected from 2,500 field deputies and then later retrieve the information, according to Rivero. He confounded many attendees when he stated that the LASD does not collaborate with U.S. Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.
“We are not immigration officers … We do not participate in federal immigration enforcement, and that is a fact. That is our policy, and it’s the law,” Rivero stated. He said their operations are for criminal offenses and that ICE agents are on some of the LASD’s task forces for the purposes of human trafficking, narcotics enforcement, and terrorist operations.
A member of the Youth Justice Coalition spoke from his personal experience with incarceration when he asked that there be no jail expansion. Jailed at age 11 and tried as an adult when he was 16, the youth said he’s facing deportation alone.
“With all due respect to you sheriff, I understand what you’re saying, but that’s not what the community’s hearing, and that’s not what the community is seeing, and that’s the problem that we have. That’s what creates that really big wall of distrust,” the young activist told Rivero.
He added, “It’s not the case that everybody in this deportation pipeline is some criminal, some convict, some illegal person or whatever the case may be. That’s not the case.”
Martha Camacho-Rodriguez of Dignity and Power Now, an educator in Compton, told commissioners that transparency is a two-way street. “Our communities of color have been greatly harmed, because what you say is not what you do,” Camacho-Rodriguez stated.
The special education teacher asked the civilian oversight panel reviews the impact of LASD’s collaborations with code enforcement and Child Protective Services on communities.
People are afraid of speaking out, she said. “Obviously, many of us here have papers, so we’re not going to fear coming up here. We probably fear the retaliation that comes after coming to make a statement, but you know what? We’re here, and we’re not going away,” Camacho-Rodriguez said.