Fresno Jail Transfers Immigrants to ICE Custody

by Stan Santos

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Fresno’s Community Alliance newspaper

Fresno County continues to violate the civil rights and basic humanity of immigrants in custody as it facilitates the transfer of arrestees to ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement], regardless of the infraction or for that matter whether they are innocent as charged. On Dec. 12, 2019, volunteers with Faith in the Valley witnessed the unjust practice as ICE agents entered the Fresno County Jail and removed two young men.

For one young man from El Salvador, his journey began several years ago, when he entered the United States with temporary legal status to join his mother, grandmother and sibling. (For the purpose of this article, he will be identified as Jesus.) Due to the complexities and indifference of the immigration system, his status has expired while the family is applying for continued protection from the perilous reality of life in El Salvador.

ICE agents making arrests at the Fresno County Courthouse

In July 2019, Jesus was arrested with another young man who allegedly committed “petty theft.” Police cited him out and during court appearances, the Superior Court judge deemed him eligible for release on his own recognizance. Despite this, ICE agents decided that they would detain him for deportation.

On the night of his release, two ICE agents were observed entering and exiting the interior area of the jail, beyond the public waiting room. They positioned themselves within inches of the door of the release vestibule. As the door opened, they immediately placed handcuffs on the first individual and walked him to a dark blue, unmarked SUV.

Around 10 p.m., Jesus was taken into custody by the same agents, placed in the waiting vehicle and transferred to the downtown ICE facility. Within 24 hours, the two young men were in the deportation pipeline via the Mesa Verde facility in Bakersfield.

Almost two months would pass before Jesus would appear in Mesa Verde Immigration Court for a bond hearing on Feb. 4, 2020. However, his attorney was informed that ICE intended to hold him without bail, and he would be treated as a new arrival.

On Feb. 5, Jesus was to appear in Fresno Superior Court on the original petty theft charge. However, the court was not informed of his detention by ICE. Family members told the defense attorney, and the judge attempted to confirm via phone with ICE. It was a confusing scene of exchanges between an annoyed judge, the defense and the prosecutor.

The defense informed the court that there was a witness present who observed the ICE removal from the Fresno jail. The attorney further insisted that in the interest of justice, the charges should be dismissed. Unfortunately, the District Attorney did not agree, and a new court date was set for March 3.

The problem that the Fresno area immigrant rights movement must confront is the collusion of the Fresno Sheriff’s Office with federal authorities in the denial of the due process rights of immigrants. In this case, the individual has not had the opportunity to go to trial and fight the charges. And those charges, minor as they might seem under any other circumstances, triggered his immediate removal.

Apparently, the Fresno Superior Court is not even informed of the Sheriff’s implementation of ICE policy in violation of due process rights. For Jesus, an unproved allegation of a minor infraction could result in his return to a place where he could suffer serious bodily injury, trauma and even death.

Jesus is not alone. Militarism, climate change and the ravages of global economic injustice continue to force immigrants to flee for their lives. Without round the clock vigilance, we might never know how many innocent men and women are returned on a daily basis, by a heartless local sheriff and ICE, to face unimaginable levels of violence.

Advocates rally in front of the Fresno County Jail in downtown Fresno, 2015

On Feb. 5, Human Rights Watch reported that since 2013, 138 Salvadorans deported from the United States were killed in their home country. Another 70 individuals “were subjected to sexual violence, torture and other harm, usually at the hands of gangs, or who went missing following their return.” This is not an all-inclusive tally; the true number is probably much higher.

The report details several cases where the victims fled gang recruitment, violent neighborhoods and spousal abuse, were denied asylum in the United States and returned to die in the place they had fled.

For more information, visit www.hrw.org/report/2020/02/05/deported-danger/united-states-deportation-policies-expose-salvadorans-death-and.

*****

Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at alianzadefresno@gmail.com.

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