Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

The State of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Alameda County


Peter Mancina


Time to read

8 Minutes

Guest post by Peter Mancina. Peter is Research Associate in the Centre for Criminology and Border Criminologies, and Visiting Scholar at the Rutgers Law School Center for Immigration Law, Policy, and Justice. His work studies "sanctuary city" and "sanctuary state" policy implementation and the future of immigration law enforcement. He may be reached at peter.mancina@crim.ox.ac.uk.

Alameda county

Many people throughout the world know Oakland, California for its former professional American football team, the Raiders. Others may know it as a center of progressive politics and racial justice – birthplace of both the Black Panther Party, which lasted from the 1960s until the early 80s, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was coined in part by an Oakland-based organizer, Alicia Garza. Oakland is the county seat of the fourth most ethnically and culturally diverse county in the United States – Alameda County. In Alameda County, which lays immediately across the San Francisco Bay to the east of San Francisco, one in three people is an immigrant – that is 540,000 people out of the county’s total 1.6 million resident populace.  Almost half of Alameda’s residents speak any number of the 120 languages other than English spoken at home in Alameda, and just over half of Alameda’s children (180,000) have one or more immigrant parents. Most immigrants residing in Alameda County have immigrated from Asia (65.6%), followed by Latin America (22.4%), Europe (5.9%), Africa (3.5%), and Oceania (1.5%).

In 2017, just after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States and following his vociferous anti-immigrant, pro-immigration control presidential electoral campaign, Alameda County’s lawmakers – the Board of Supervisors – created a new committee of their board - the Ad Hoc Committee for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The committee’s goals, according to Committee Chair Supervisor Richard Valle, were to hear from the community about their concerns, about resources and the gaps in access to county government services for immigrants, to make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors regarding the county’s next steps in pursuit of building the county’s current infrastructure in services for immigrants and refugees. The committee sought to hear directly from immigrant serving organizations to better understand the current political climate regarding immigration policies, and to hear from county agency leaders about the work they were doing to mitigate the negative impacts of immigration policies on their ability to serve all county residents regardless of immigration status.

After over a year of work, the Board hired me to complete the review of the county’s immigrant and refugee serving efforts and programs by investigating further the protection of immigrant rights in county government and providing them a report that summarizes the findings of the committee hearings; that gives deeper insight into agency policies and protocols; provides them answers to questions that remained outstanding from the hearings, and to make recommendations to agency heads and to the Board on how they can do more to assist immigrants. I reviewed nearly 10,000 internal documents that the agencies provided me and conducted interviews with key staff and management in all public-interfacing county agencies – the District Attorney’s Office, Health Care Services, Probation, Public Defender’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, and Social Services. What I found in Alameda’s work was both inspiring, and illustrative of how even well-meaning governments have a long way to go to end their cooperation with federal immigration enforcement agencies.

During the Trump Presidency (2017-2021), Alameda County went to great lengths to minimize the impact of federal immigration enforcement efforts on immigrant and refugee communities in Alameda. As a basis of their work, the county kept open lines of communication with immigrant and refugee communities in Alameda and with immigrant advocacy organizations. They informed immigrants and refugees of their rights in numerous Know Your Rights training events and by providing “red cards” to government service recipients that include immigrant rights information; and they integrated information and public relations materials about immigration law and enforcement changes into the service interactions county agencies have with the public. The county also held public events that brought the staff and management of county agencies together with the immigrant and refugee public, and with immigrant advocacy organizations to hear directly from them about the impact of immigration enforcement on their groups and to communicate information about county services, benefits, and policies pertaining to immigrants and refugees. To inform immigrant and refugee communities of county benefits and services, to foster their use, and to distinguish the county from immigration enforcement officials, county agencies conducted community outreach at community events, public townhalls, in schools, and through speaking to the media.

County administrators and agency heads also kept open lines of communication with their own staff regarding changes in immigration policies and how to interact with federal immigration authorities that seek information and assistance. Agencies created central intranet resource hubs for county employees that included materials and information about immigrant rights, immigration policy changes, and interacting with immigrant and refugee clients. And agencies provided training for their own county staff covering updates in immigration policies, working with immigrant and refugee clients and interacting with federal immigration agents.

Rather than merely stating its intentions in protecting immigrants, the county also “put its money where its mouth is” by allocating financial and other resources to stabilize the lives of immigrants and refugees. The county funded county benefits and services in health care, mental health, housing, and social services to directly aid and assist immigrants and refugees of all legal statuses and provided services to all members of the public regardless of immigration status. The county funded county legal services for immigrants and refugees in criminal proceedings and federal immigration proceedings, as well as changed the plea-bargaining practices of its prosecutors in the District Attorney’s office to minimize immigration consequences of criminal charges and convictions. To understand how to best provide these services, the county was in routine contact with community-based immigrant serving and immigrant-led organizations regarding best practices for county agencies in their interactions with immigrants and refugees and with federal immigration agencies.

Following the implementation of the Trump Administration’s cruel policy of separating families detained at the border with Mexico, Alameda County created peer groups for unaccompanied immigrant youth (UIY) and tailored counselling services and socializing opportunities for them to transition to life in the United States, as well as parenting courses for parents reunifying with children they were separated from.

To legally mitigate the impact of immigration enforcement upon county residents, the county worked with immigrant and refugee community-based organizations and other community organizations, funded their advocacy work, and funded the creation of a “first responder” rapid response network to respond to immigration enforcement actions and to provide removal defense legal services for immigrants and refugees. This provided the resources these organizations needed to create and staff phone hotlines that members of the public would use to report immigration enforcement activities and hate crimes, which in many cases concerned immigrant victims.

Given that in the United States during the Trump years, almost half of the immigration arrests that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) made resulted from local law enforcement voluntarily turning over people they detain in their jails to ICE, Alameda County made greater efforts to reduce to a minimum its voluntary cooperation by implementing anti-deportation assistance policies and protocols. This included prohibiting county staff in departments such as Probation and the Sheriff’s Office from inquiring about an individual’s citizenship status in the course of county business, providing certain types of information to federal immigration agencies, transferring individuals to federal immigration custody unless certain conditions are met, responding to requests from immigration agencies to hold individuals in order to effect a transfer of custody to immigration authorities, making immigration-related arrests or performing the functions of an immigration officer, among various other non-cooperation prohibitions.

The county however, extended this approach beyond the scope of the jails and probationary meetings and took actions to minimize the possibility that a client’s use of county services in all agencies would result in negative immigration consequences. Agencies reminded their staff of existing policies to maintain the confidentiality of client records, especially in the case of minors, and not disclosing them to federal immigration agencies. And lastly, the county made efforts to make the physical spaces of county government offices safe spaces for immigrants and refugees of all statuses by intentionally not asking members of the public about their immigration status or cooperating in federal immigration efforts to collect information about members of the public.

While these laudable efforts were successfully implemented, there is still much work to be done in Alameda County agencies to ensure that immigration enforcement at the federal level does not interfere with the optimal operations of county agencies that work with immigrants on a day to day basis. In particular, I found the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office to require the most effort in the near future in its aims of advancing immigrant rights and decreasing immigration enforcement assistance through policy changes.

In my full report which can be downloaded here, I have recommended that the Sheriff discontinue his office’s practice of voluntarily providing information on inmate release times and locations to ICE which assists ICE in making arrests of individuals when they are released to the public from local jails. While it may seem counterintuitive, comprehensive studies completed by scholars at New York University and the University of Chicago have demonstrated that local jails assisting ICE in making immigration arrests does not reduce crime among the general populace or among immigrant populations – it simply is a poor crime-fighting tool that only increases removal numbers. The consequences of providing this information, aside from the immediate effects of deportation upon the life outcomes of the individual and their families, can from a public policy perspective lead to lower rates of immigrant community cooperation with law enforcement when they know that interactions with law enforcement may result in their placement in removal proceedings.

In Alameda County, there is also an outstanding question that my review could not answer, but which I find incredibly important in the search for a full understanding of whether local jails are upholding the constitutional rights of immigrants. In particular, the Board of Supervisors in Alameda raised a concern with the Sheriff that immigrants for whom the Sheriff is providing release information to ICE about may be held longer in local custody than individuals for whom ICE is not seeking release information for. While the Sheriff has publicly stated that he does not hold individuals in this case beyond the point they would be released on their criminal charges, the office did not provide me with evidence of this fact. I sought to review the “movement logs” of all inmates for whom ICE sent the Sheriff a formal request for release information. Movement logs are a public record for which the office documents the time and location of inmates as they are moved through various wings of the Sheriff’s carceral facilities. The Sheriff’s Office regrettably did not provide these logs after multiple requests that were sent from Supervisor Richard Valle’s office. As such, in my recommendations to the Board, I recommended that the Board and County Counsel work with the Sheriff’s Office to obtain these logs and review them in a comprehensive manner to assess whether there are any violations of detainee rights by holding them for the sole purpose of assisting immigration enforcement agencies and when there is no judicial warrant or criminal charges on which to hold them.

In addition to these crucial actions, I have recommended to the Board that it pass a county-wide ordinance disallowing immigration enforcement assistance and information sharing with ICE by county staff; to continue funding legal representation for immigrants facing removal proceedings in federal courts; increase funding to the District Attorney’s Office to conduct its investigatory work with immigrant victims of crime in community settings; and to create a central agency within the county – an Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs – to coordinate immigrant and refugee programmatic and policy efforts and to centralize support services to county agencies in the area of immigrant and refugee rights.

Should Alameda County take the next steps to fully implement these and the other recommendations that are fully detailed in this Border Criminologies and Centre for Criminology report, it should place itself among counties around the United States at the forefront of implementing immigrant and refugee rights.

The Executive Summary of the report can be downloaded here.

The Full Report may be downloaded here.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

P. Mancina. (2022) The State of Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Alameda County. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2022/09/state-immigrant-and-refugee-rights-alameda-county. Accessed on: 26/05/2024

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