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Contra Costa: Richmond Mayor blocked from jail as volunteer group returns

MARTINEZ — A whirlwind of developments on immigration have unfolded over the past few weeks in Contra Costa County, from a scheduling of the first Truth Act forum to a tentative agreement between the sheriff’s office and a group of volunteers to return to the Richmond jail.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt blocked from Richmond jail
In Richmond, Mayor Tom Butt is still being denied from touring the Richmond jail, he says. In April, Butt requested a tour after learning of allegations that detainees were being mistreated at the facility. In early April, a sheriff’s deputy was arrested for allegedly having sex with two inmates detained there.
On May 14, Sheriff David Livingston denied Butt’s request, arguing the 20 tours the office has provided in the past nine months became “burdensome and disruptive for both staff and inmates.”
In the mayor’s E-Forum newsletter, he fired back with the numerous other institutions and businesses in Richmond that provided tours — Chevron, Amazon, Richmond schools and the Frank Hagel Federal Building.
“But when I asked to see the West County Detention Center, the sheriff turned me down — flat… All I can figure is he must have something to hide,” Butt wrote in the May 15 forum newsletter.
The city of Richmond has joined Santa Clara County, Oakland and more than 20 other counties and cities across California in filing friend-of-the-court briefs in a federal lawsuit challenging immigration policies brought forth by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) to return to Richmond jail
On March 8, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office banned Freedom for Immigrants, formerly named CIVIC, from the Richmond jail for allegedly passing contraband to inmates. Freedom for Immigrants said it was retaliation for publicizing the mistreatment allegations of female detainees at the jail.
During the interim, Freedom for Immigrants appealed and met with the sheriff’s office and the two sides agreed to a tentative reinstatement of visitation privileges.
“We look forward to working with Freedom for Immigrants on the MOA and value the many services community-based organizations provide to incarcerated persons, including the ICE detainees,” wrote Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
The reinstatement will come after a memorandum of agreement is signed; however, the meeting to sign that reinstatement won’t happen until June, said Rebecca Merton, National Visitation program coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants, who noted three months will have passed since their ban.
“Especially for the unrepresented people in ICE detention at WCDF that rely on our volunteers’ support, it is critical that we are able to return to visitation with them as soon as possible,” Merton wrote. “We have already noted negative outcomes for people’s cases and morale during the past two months of our volunteers not being able to offer our material assistance and emotional support through visitation and our hotline.”
First Truth Act Forum scheduled
In what appears to be the first meeting of its kind, the county has scheduled a date for a Truth Act Forum: 2 p.m. July 24 in the Board of Supervisors Chambers, at 651 Pine St. in Martinez.
The Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH Act), or AB 2792, requires local law enforcement to inform people in jail of their rights when Immigration and Customs Enforcement tries to contact them. The law also makes all records held by local law enforcement regarding communication with ICE available to the public under the state’s public records act.
The law also requires at least one community forum be held by the Board of Supervisors, where community members can get information on how ICE has been given access to individuals in the county. All local governing bodies, including city councils, are required to hold one of these a year if local police or sheriff’s departments have allowed ICE access to an individual.
In February, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office started publishing the release dates of inmates, including undocumented immigrants, on its website. Legal experts called this a loophole in the law that prevents law enforcement from notifying ICE of the release dates of undocumented immigrants who have not committed serious or violent crimes.
Data on immigration deportations, court backlog
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the nation’s 334 immigration judges working in its 58 immigration courts to work faster and meet quotas, the Washington Post reported. Judges will be expected to clear at least 700 cases a year to receive a “satisfactory” performance rating.
Concern among local and national lawyers and judges was that justice was not meant to be rushed.
“The immigration courts should not be run like an assembly line. Instead of trying to limit an immigration judge’s discretion and rush a case through, they should hire more immigration judges to handle the backlog,” said Joseph LaCome, an immigration attorney who has clients in the Richmond jail.
The immigration courts determine whether someone charged with violating immigration law should be deported or can remain in the country.
Currently there is a national backlog of more than 690,000 pending immigration cases. More than 130,000 of those are in California and 52,000 are at the San Francisco Immigration Court, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse.
On Thursday, Syracuse University’s Transactional Access Records Clearinghouse released new data showing that ICE deportations dropped by half from 2012 to 2017.
In October of 2012, ICE deported 34,543 people and by October 2017, that number was at 18,428. TRAC argued this number is not reliable, though, as the agency is not reporting border apprehensions and is “now withholding these case-by-case details, disingenuously claiming the agency no longer tracks the information…”
Between February and October of 2017 — a nine-month period — more than 150,000 people were deported by ICE and half of these people either had not been convicted of a crime (34 percent) or were only convicted for illegal entry or reentry (15 percent). One in four people deported by ICE were convicted of a serious offense.
Read more at  trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/513/
Don’t miss this coverage by reporter Ali Tadayon on the City of Richmond’s decision to prohibit any investments or contracts with companies that provide “data broker” or “extreme vetting” services to ICE. Read more at  http://bit.ly/RichICE

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