The Kern County Board of Supervisors will be holding a community forum for the California Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUST) Act during their regularly scheduled meeting at 9 a.m. on August 23.
The TRUTH Act is a State law that passed in 2016 and was implemented in 2017 to establish transparency and reduce the collaborative actions between the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement. The law provides vital “know your rights” information to immigrants who are in ICE custody and brings clarity to local law enforcement participation in federal immigration enforcement.
Additionally, the TRUTH Act requires that if a local law enforcement agency provides ICE with notification of an individual’s release date and time, then the local law enforcement agency must also provide the same notification to the individual and their attorney or permitted designee.
“Prior to that law, it was discretionary and a lot of local agencies — specifically in the Central Valley — were transferring people over or handing people over to immigration,” revealed Rosa Lopez, Senior Policy Advocate and Organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Lopez continued by explaining that the TRUTH Act provides a public forum where the public can share testimonies and hear from their local law enforcement about any interactions, communications, or collaborations with ICE. During this forum, local law enforcement is also required to share data about who ICE is after, how many people have been transferred over to ICE and to learn more about the policies involving transfers.
“It’s a way to hold the local law enforcement accountable and to keep the public aware of what they’re doing,” Lopez claimed.
According to a toolkit created by the Rapid Response Network of Kern — an agency with a mission to empower immigrant communities to advocate for themselves and others to bring about systemic change — Kern County is a hotspot for ICE arrests. Data collected from 2015 to 2018 ranked Kern as the fourth county in California with the highest ICE arrests and the top 20 counties in the country with the highest ICE arrests.
The TRUTH Act was one of three laws that were passed in order to protect people from collusion between state and local law enforcement agencies and agencies engaged in immigration enforcement. In February 2022, however, ACLU released a report entitled “Collusion in California’s Central Valley: The Case for Ending Sheriff Entanglement with ICE” that revealed that certain sheriffs and local law enforcement agencies, however, have circumvented these laws and undermined the protections envisioned for California immigrants — at times in consultation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
In 2019, a Kern County farmworker named Erika was falsely accused of stealing a bag of fruit from the citrus and almond fields where she was working. The farm owner called the police and, despite her insistence that she had not stolen anything, Erika was arrested. Erika was released from the Kern County Sheriff’s custody after paying her bail but instead of being allowed to return to her family, Erika was arrested by two ICE agents inside the jail. She spent six months in immigration detention.
Erika had become the sole provider of her three daughters following the murder of her husband in Mexico. During the first couple of days of her detention, her children did not know where she was and thought she had been killed by the same men that killed their father. In June 2019, Erika was released from immigration detention and three days later, she went to the Kern County Superior Court to pay a court fee but was arrested for failing to appear at her court date.
Despite explaining that her ICE arrest had prevented her attendance, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office jailed her again — for 55 days. Today, Erika is scared to go out in public and becomes anxious at the sight of a police officer.
“Our Sheriff’s department is notoriously known for his anti-immigration views and has been very vocal about that and reports and data suggest that they continue to find ways to collaborate [with ICE] without explicitly violating the law,” Lopez disclosed. “For example, some of the first things we would hear is that people were being released from County jail and as they were leaving through the parking lot, ICE would show up and pick up someone that, I guess, looked undocumented.”
Lopez urged the public to show up and demand that the Board of Supervisors do more to protect all of Kern County’s residents and hold the Sheriff accountable for violating State law.
In January 2020, Martin was released from the Lerdo Jail in Kern County after completing his sentence for a DUI. At the time of his release, sheriff’s deputies asked him to sign some paperwork and then directed him to a separate holding cell. Martin waited there for 30 minutes, but he was never given any paperwork. Instead, four sheriff’s deputies escorted him into the hands of ICE agents who were waiting in the jail parking lot.
Martin was detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility for almost five months. During this time, his U.S. citizen children worried that he would get sick, suffered from depression, and struggled in school. Since his release, Martin’s children have slowly recovered from the trauma. He serves as an active member of his church and is in compliance with court orders relating to his release.
With these loopholes still being practiced by law enforcement, an additional law to protect immigrants known as the VISION act is currently on the Senate Floor in the 2022 legislative session. The VISION Act would protect community members who have already been deemed eligible for release from being transferred by local jails and our state prison system to immigration detention.
Gabriela Gomez, a Project Coordinator for Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc. (GBLA), stressed the importance of individuals being able to advocate for themselves and stated the TRUTH Act forum will give them the space to do that.
“It gives us space to talk to our Board of Supervisors and ask them for that transparency on what is being done, what the numbers and loopholes are, and to engage the community,” Gomez said.
With Kern County being a largely immigrant community, Lopez said that the Board of Supervisors cannot continue to stay silent and brush these happenings off as a federal case. She continued by voicing the importance of the community taking their power back by holding law enforcement and the Board of Supervisors accountable.
“The community needs to step up and say that as elected representatives they need to support all their residents,” Lopez stated. “This is a way the community themselves can take that power and demand their representatives do more to protect the whole community.”
The community forum will take place in the Board of Supervisors Chamber located on the first floor of the Kern County Administrative Center. The forum is open to the public and the public is invited to provide comments during the session. Spanish translation will be provided.
When asked about the inclusivity of the 9 a.m. meeting time, Gomez revealed that the Rapid Response Network of Kern wrote letters of support to try to get a forum time that would better accommodate those most impacted by the TRUTH Act but were denied.
“This forum is supposed to be so the public can come and speak before the board and when they’re not accommodating the people impacted by this, they’re just refusing to listen,” Lopez said. “They unilaterally, without consulting with advocates or organizations, scheduled it [the forum] on their own saying that they were going to put the forum on the next meeting agenda. Which is unfortunate because it will keep out a majority of the community.”
Both Lopez and Gomez are aware that many people will be working while the public forum is happening, but urged those that are available to show up to provide comments. Public comments can also be submitted directly to the Board of Supervisors by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org by Monday, August 22.
“Even though they may not have been directly impacted by this kind of practice, we all know someone who has been impacted by this. We encourage the entire community to stand united and stand together. Sending in those public comments will help prioritize this issue before the Board and in the future, they can take it seriously and do more to hold the Sheriff’s department accountable.”
In addition to attending the forum in person, the forum will also be live-streamed through the Official Kern County Youtube.