LOS ANGELES (CN) – Civil rights groups asked the Superior Court to order L.A. Sheriff Leroy Baca to hand over arrest records of people deported under the “Secure Communities” immigration program, amid allegations that sheriff’s officers engage in racial profiling.
A sheriff’s spokesman said that the information, if it is released at all, must come from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement – not from the Sheriff’s Department.
Lead plaintiff the National Day Laborer Organizing Network claims the Sheriff’s Department refused to hand over the records or sent outdated or irrelevant information.
The plaintiff, joined by the National Immigration Law Center and the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, claims the county’s collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement destroys trust in vulnerable communities the sheriff is supposed to protect.
“Community groups have raised concerns that this unprecedented collaboration between the Sheriff’s Department and federal immigration officials destroys trust between the Sheriff’s Department and immigrant communities, jeopardizing decades of community policing work,” the complaint states.
The groups add that in “challenging fiscal times” the deportation programs, including Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program, place additional burdens on community police.
The NILC says it attempted to obtain information on policies and procedures under the Department’s 2009 agreement to renew its collaboration with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – as well as arrest records dating back to 2004.
The groups say that the immigration enforcement programs have generated “increasing public controversy” in Los Angeles, a microcosm of the nationwide debate over immigration laws and enforcement.
The Secure Communities deportation program has been criticized in several reports that show that though the Department of Homeland Security and its creature the ICE claim the program targets dangerous criminals, the vast majority of people deported under the program do not fit that description.
“Each petitioner is uniquely positioned to contribute meaningfully to this debate from the perspective of advocating for low-wage immigrants, an extremely vulnerable population, and of ensuring that as a nation we respect our constitutional principals while engaged in immigration enforcement,” the plaintiffs say in their complaint.
“Under Baca’s watch, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has become a deportation machine for the federal government,” Jessica Karp, a staff attorney for the NILC, told Courthouse News. “But Los Angeles is not Arizona – we will not tolerate the use of county resources to facilitate mass deportations and rampant civil rights violations.”
Snajukta Paul, lead counsel in the FOIA complaint, said that “the plain text” of California’s public records laws and the “strongly worded reiterations” of the state constitution show that release of the records is a “fundamental requirement.”
“I am truly surprised by the recalcitrance of the Sheriff’s Department, a sophisticated public entity, in responding to legitimate requests for information from these organizations regarding matters that are plainly of public concern,” Paul said in a statement to Courthouse News.
But L.A. County Sheriffs Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said only ICE had authority to attend to the plaintiffs’ records request.
“We have an agreement with ICE, so this is their information to release,” Whitmore told Courthouse News, adding that if the government chose to respond to the request, that was “fine” with Sheriff Baca.