Since the beginning of April, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced more than 350 arrests in raids from New York to Virginia to Texas. Presumably, they could happen anywhere at anytime.
But a new quid pro quo with the government has Madera County hoping it can both do away with raids and keep its residents safe.
In most of California, county jails are run by county sheriffs. Not so in Madera, where District Attorney David Linn explains the jail belongs to its own Department of Corrections.
“In a sense, it’s really kind of a godsend for the sheriff because running the county jail is a nightmare,” Linn says.
But with so many people in charge of law enforcement, one hand may not know always what the other is doing. That appears to be what happened earlier this year when Linn started getting complaints from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
“I started receiving phone calls inquiring as to what was occurring in Madera County and pointing out to me that they were getting no cooperation from the jail in Madera County,” he says.
That was a big deal to Linn. Local agencies are by no means required to cooperate with ICE, but the pressure has been on since President Trump threatened earlier this year to pull federal funding from any entity that doesn’t cooperate with them.
“I was told that we receive a minimum of $46 million a year from federal funding,” Linn says, “which to a small county like Madera would be a tremendously significant blow if we were to lose that money.”
So Linn got involved in the county jail’s business. Just weeks after Trump’s inauguration, he invited ICE, the sheriff, the jail director and the county Board of Supervisors to come discuss collaborating. And they struck a deal.
“All ICE requires from us, and what we agreed to do, was to accept their telephone calls when those calls came in—and this is at the jail, and at my office—and then act accordingly,” he says.
Advocates, though, are skeptical that ICE can keep its promises—and they warn the county could be on a slippery slope toward civil rights violations.
So how does the deal work? When ICE flags a Madera County inmate for immigration violations, the county has agreed to let them know when and where that inmate is being released. To Linn, that’s an assurance of keeping the streets free of criminals.
“I want them only to get the people that have caused problems legally within Madera County and who have violated our laws,” he says.
In exchange, ICE agreed to not conduct raids at places like schools, courthouses, and workplaces.
“I did not want the Madera community to be disrupted by ICE coming in and doing sweeps in neighborhoods,” Linn says. “I wanted assurances from them that they would not do that, which they have given me. I also did not want ICE in any way getting involved with farm laborers.”
Madera County Jail Director Manuel Perez agrees with these priorities, but he says the DA’s information was a little out of date to begin with.
“This has been ongoing for years,” Perez says. “There’s a new commander in chief that’s aggressive on immigration, but these policies have always been in place.”
Perez says all that’s changed recently is that the county and ICE have found ways to improve their coordination. And it seems like law enforcement within the county has done the same.
Although both Perez and Linn cite public safety as a primary driver of this cooperation, Angelica Salceda sees things a little differently. She’s a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
“Madera County appears to be folding to the pressure that is being exerted by the threats that ICE is telling them, by the possibly misleading promise that there will be no raids in Madera County,” she says.
Salceda says ICE has gone back on its word in other counties, like in an incident in February in which Santa Cruz police claim ICE misled them about the nature of local gang arrests.
Salceda is also alarmed because it’s not clear how ICE targets inmates. DA Linn claims ICE is interested in any immigrant who’s committed a felony. But Chief Perez says ICE only wants undocumented felons. ICE didn’t respond to a request for this story, and its website lacks specifics.
“When there are no restrictions in place or no accountabilities in place, ICE is free to identify and interview and request to detain anybody who’s there,” she says.
Most of this is perfectly legal, but the agency has blurred some legal lines. The ACLU has claimed that detainers are unconstitutional. That’s when ICE asks jails to hold individuals longer than their sentences call for. And the agency has been sued for detaining U.S. citizens by mistake.
Salceda also argues that ICE relies too heavily on local agencies to do what it’s already capable of – like searching public records, arresting and detaining criminals, and seeking warrants.
“Those are the tools that exist to them,” she says. “They could be going and doing that. Instead, they’re using our very limited resources so that Madera County can do the job for them instead.”
After all, those are the same limited resources the county is trying to protect.