Tulsa jail sees increase in ICE detainees
By PAIGHTEN HARKINS, CURTIS KILLMAN
Oct. 16, 2017
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — On Thursdays, a handful of people gather outside the Tulsa Jail for a demonstration that feels more like a church service than a protest. They call themselves New Sanctuary.
They sing a bit, speak a bit and, right in the middle of it all, they use a loudspeaker to read a list of names of individuals they believe are incarcerated for no reason other than their immigrant status.
On Sept. 28, it was Elizondro Casas Martinez, Alfredo Figueroa-Cano, Jose Martinez-Olvera, Limberg De Paz Espinoza, Jose Guadalupe Hernandez-Valdez, Marlon Carreto-Sanchez, Ismael Patino-Nunez, Julian Cervantes, Miguel Cardon-Pedraza, Juan Cuellar and 26 others. They read a new list of names every week.
"We think it's beautifully symbolic just to say, 'We're shouting your name. We're calling your name. We're here for you.' They can't hear us, but somebody can hear us," the group's project director, Linda Allegro told the Tulsa World .
At the Tulsa Jail, the number of people held on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers has doubled since the last fiscal year. During most of that time, ICE agents — and local detention officers deputized through the 287(g) agreement to enforce federal immigration law — have been working under President Donald Trump's more stringent immigration enforcement priorities.
About 1 in 3 individuals arrested by local authorities faced felony complaints, with the remaining two-thirds of detainees looking at misdemeanor charges, according to a Tulsa World review of jail bookings between January 2016 and June 2017. Once the detainer is placed, it begins deportation proceedings.
The most common arrest complaints bringing immigrants into the jail by local law enforcement were DUI-related offenses, with assault as the second-most common, followed by drug trafficking and possession and traffic offenses. Fewer than 5 percent are for violent crimes such as homicide and rape.
Changing enforcement priorities compounds tensions and fears in Tulsa, local activists and advocates say, when coupled with the county jail's designation as an ICE detainment facility through another agreement with the federal government.
The result is a panicked immigrant population, said Mimi Marton, director of the University of Tulsa's Immigrant Resource Network. Since January, calls to her office seeking advice have doubled, she said.
"We've had several clients — and we get a lot of phone calls — from people nowadays that we didn't used to get," she said. "Like, 'I was supposed to be a witness at a crime. Is it dangerous for me to go into court?'"
Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado acknowledges the potential consequences of the agreements. But he thinks the partnership helps Tulsa County residents more because it removes immigrants who have committed crimes.
Regalado said he has heard this shared philosophy from conversations with Tulsa's immigrant communities, particularly among the Latino population.
"The overwhelming majority of them feel the same way: If you're committing crimes, we don't care who you are; we don't want you here, either," Regalado said.
That is why he continues the federal program.
"Can that change? Will that change? It's possible," he said.
A memo from then-Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson instructed ICE agents, from 2014 to January, to focus on high-priority targets — those who posed a threat to the public, had been convicted of significant crimes or threatened national or border security.
The Priority Enforcement Program was replaced by an executive order from Trump titled "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States." Under that order, ICE agents could once again apprehend lower-priority individuals, including those with misdemeanor complaints and those whose lone offense is illegally crossing the border.
"It's just a matter of, in the course of us targeting other priorities, or the higher priorities, will we arrest and take into ICE custody other aliens that are not targeted and also that may be of a lower priority," said ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok, who is based in Dallas.
In practice, this means agents will arrest any person living in the country illegally at the scene of an apprehension.
Rusnok declined the Tulsa World's request to speak with Tulsa-based ICE agents and deferred questions about ICE enforcement in Tulsa to himself.
Under the new enforcement priorities, the sheriff's ICE partnerships have become problematic because they can result in the removal of people living in the country illegally in the Tulsa Jail regardless of offense, Marton said.
"It is basically a very broad mandate to detain and put into proceedings anyone who's here undocumented," she said.
That leads to a frightened immigrant population who will be less likely to call law enforcement for help, Marton said.
Several national reports are finding drops in Latinos' reporting of crimes to police since the start of the broader enforcement priorities. A Los Angeles Times story states that fewer Latinos there are reporting sexual assaults and domestic abuse to police, a trend not reflected among other ethnic groups. National Public Radio aired a similar story about Houston.
The Virginia-based nonprofit Tahirih Justice Center found that 78 percent of advocates and attorneys for immigrant survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault say their clients express concern about contacting police for fear of deportation.
Regalado said he doesn't have data showing that that's happening on a large scale in Tulsa, although he acknowledged that it is happening. He said it is a priority for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office to reach out to the Hispanic community to combat those perceptions.
"My roundabout answer to you is, although I don't have those statistics, I don't believe they're as high as many people would have you believe. I think that people still call us," the sheriff said.
Regalado said that without data it is difficult to answer whether the value of continuing the immigration program outweighs the potential of people no longer cooperating with police.
"If I were to see the fact that now the majority of people in our 287(g) program are there simply because they are undocumented citizens, I would be apt to believe that now we are destroying communication, that trust, and now people are not calling us, not only for themselves, but to report violent crimes," Regalado said.
If that were proven the case, Regalado said he'd consider canceling the partnership because it's "counterproductive."
"What I have told people . is that when the main focus of 287(g) becomes simply apprehending and holding people based solely on their status as undocumented or documented individuals here in Tulsa County, then I will certainly consider ending our partnership with that," he said.
A group of Tulsa activists are calling for a fiscal audit of jail operations, concerned that money is the motivator in continuing the ICE program.
"I think that's what really bugs me about the whole thing. It's literally just people taking really bad situations and getting their moment of opportunity of financing themselves off of it," said Chris Shoaf, an activist and member of the Oklahomans for Equality advisory board.
In the past four years, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office has received $11.1 million from the federal government through its participation in immigration enforcement programs.
Between fiscal year 2014 and 2016, the Sheriff's Office averaged about $2.5 million in annual revenue by housing and transporting ICE detainees suspected of immigration violations, according to documents obtained by the Tulsa World through the Oklahoma Open Records Act.
In fiscal year 2017, TCSO received about $3.5 million from ICE, a 44 percent increase from the previous year. Most of the payments come from housing immigrants under ICE jurisdiction at a rate of $69 a day.
Regalado said the revenue doesn't account for costs incurred by holding detainees. He said the department gains income through the agreement but is not reliant on those funds and that the money is not the reason for continuing with the program.
He said that if the ICE agreement ends for any reason, he is prepared to rearrange the budget to operate the jail without those federal funds.
"We're not going to live and die simply by that revenue. But yes, do we charge to hold people's inmates? Absolutely," he said.
Once a week, ICE detainees are taken from a pod at the Tulsa Jail to a makeshift courtroom inside the jail.
Bookshelves border the room because it's also the jail's library. Hidden behind a dark curtain against the wall, there's a crucifix. When it's not being used as the library or courtroom, it's the chapel, too.
Some days it's the yoga studio.
But on Tuesday mornings, the room is where a Dallas-based judge is connected via video and a TV monitor to adjudicate a list of detainees.
In late September, 61-year-old Fidel Romero stood before the TV, charged with aggravated DUI complaints and miscellaneous traffic offenses. He's severely diabetic and has been in the United States since he was 12.
The last time he saw his parents was when he crossed into the U.S.
"I don't have parents. Ever since I crossed the bridge, I haven't known about them," he said.
The judge ordered Romero deported that day. He gave two options: accept the ruling or appeal.
Romero asked the judge — through a translator in Dallas — to allow him to stay so he can work to purchase his medications, instead. Eventually, Romero chose option the first option.
On the following Tuesday, Guadalupe Moreno-De La Cruz was among those before the judge. The 46-year-old came to the U.S. for the first time in 1995 or 1996. He left, then came back. The last time he entered the country was 2011.
He has a wife and three children in Mexico plus a daughter in the U.S. He wanted to apply for voluntary departure back to Mexico, as many immigrants do.
A voluntary removal is considered less harsh because it would allow a person to re-enter the U.S. later through a legal path, if one is available. A removal order bars a person for a set amount of time.
Pending DUI proceedings meant the application would be denied. The judge also noted in turning down the request that Moreno-De La Cruz had been granted a voluntary departure previously and still crossed the border illegally.
When the judge told Moreno-De La Cruz, he was confused. "So you're going to grant voluntary deportation?" he asked.
After many of the other detainees snickered, Moreno-De La Cruz realized what so many already knew: He would be deported, and if he returned to the U.S. again, it would be illegally.
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com