Sheriff Don Barnes’ local deportation machine is alive and well in Orange County, thanks to the complicity of the Board of Supervisors. The Orange County Rapid Response Network has been clear in our stance against ICE transfers. We believe people navigating immigration cases should be able to do so with their families in the community — not behind bars in detention. They should be able to access the support they need through community-based programs.

Earlier this month, Don Barnes penned an opinion article in the Voice of OC where he addressed the community of directly impacted people and advocates who made public comments at this year’s TRUTH Forum. He alleges their comments contained “misinformation” which he believes “does great damage to the trust between law enforcement and the community” they serve. We want to make it clear that immigrants who have completed their time in jail or prison shouldn’t be subject to double-punishment by being handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be detained and possibly deported.

We know for certain that the OC Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) continues to transfer community members over to ICE, because to this day, we hear about and respond to illegal ICE holds that violate the California Values Act, also known as SB 54. OCSD paid a settlement in 2021 for exactly what the Sheriff claimed they did not do: illegally transfer residents to ICE. We continue to support individuals who the department attempts to transfer to ICE by putting pressure on the OC Sheriff outside of the intake and release center in Santa Ana. It has become apparent that the OCSD is not here to protect immigrant communities but rather, as Sheriff Barnes put it, “patrol our communities.”

We have identified trends in which we can justly say that those community members impacted by ICE Transfers and Enforcement live in working class communities, many of which the county neglects through lack of funding and community programming, including Artesia Pilar, Cornerstone Village, South Lyon St., Townsend, and Little Saigon. On a weekly basis we notice the difference it makes to support people in our communities who are navigating immigration cases. Our community members should not be defined by their mistakes, rather need investment and support services.

When we follow the money, our county chooses to fund the criminalization of low-income and working class communities in Orange County. The discretionary budget allocation for OCSD in 2021 was a whopping $263.5 million dollars, and every year it continues to grow, with no mediation from the OC Board of Supervisors. Housing and mental health services are the most important issues facing our community members re-entering Orange County. There is a deficit of support services, proven by 211 callers throughout the county and many families we serve. When the county begins to prioritize the needs of the community and reflect it in the annual budget, we can truly make way to support rehabilitation for formerly detained people.

Does the Sheriff trust the CDCR? If so, he must believe in the “R” (rehabilitation). Why then, would he designate as “dangerous” and want to remove people that CDCR has deemed rehabilitated? Community members the OCSD legally transfers, have completed their sentences and many of them have qualified for parole. Don Barnes claims he cooperates with these transfers because he is committed to keeping our communities “safe”. Safe from whom? Immigrants? When a US citizen is released from custody, their debt is paid. When an undocumented person is released, OCSD would hand them over to ICE to be detained again. The OCSD has the discretion to terminate this practice entirely on the county level, but they continue to show their anti-immigrant bias and let Orange County be the deportation capital of California. According to journalist Nick Gerda, “When it comes to notifying ICE when they can pick up undocumented inmates, nobody in California does it as much as Orange County, according to the latest available data. OC transferred four times as many people to ICE when compared to Los Angeles County’s conservative Sheriff Alex Villanueva – whose jails cover a county with three times as many residents as OC.” While the Sheriff insists that he is not in the business of deporting, the transfer of our community members to ICE expedites the process of deportation.

The Sheriff claims that formally detained undocumented folks have high rates of recidivism (in spite of studies showing that US citizens have far higher rates); but he did not share the charges of those that re-offended in this year’s TRUTH Forum Data. He uses this data to put immigrants in an unfavorable light, but we counter: are they over-policing and over-supervising our immigrant community? Just because someone is convicted of a “crime” does not make them guilty. Don Barnes has been notorious for his anti-immigrant narratives and practices, Deporter in Chief, as we have branded him.  

At the state level we are currently advocating for the VISION ACT (AB 937), a bill authored by Assemblymember Wendy Carillo, that 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. Black, Latinx & Asian immigrant communities in Orange County deserve the freedom to move and seek safety and opportunity for themselves and their families, all of which upholds dignity for all people. We need our local elected officials to end ICE transfers and vote YES on the Vision Act.

Laura Hernandez & Mau Trejo are both community organizers with the Orange County Rapid Response Network (OCRRN). OCRRN is a community based organization led by system impacted community members, civil rights attorneys, law school clinics, and volunteers working together to respond to dehumanizing immigration enforcement activities and policies in Orange County.

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