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Supervisors vote to establish Office of Immigrant Affairs

LOS ANGELES — Immigrants rights advocates faced off with anti-immigrant groups outside the county Hall of Administration Jan. 10, trying to shout each other down, before the Board of Supervisors voted to established an Office of Immigrant Affairs.

The ICE Out of LA coalition was on hand to urge the supervisors to move quickly to institute proposed protections for undocumented immigrants, including a legal defense fund for residents threatened with deportation.

Holding signs calling for “representation, not deportation” and chanting “no Trump; no KKK; no fascist U.S.A.!,” the pro-immigrant group voiced its support of the board’s efforts to protect residents from potential changes in federal policy.

“We can’t stay silent,” said coalition spokeswoman Edna Monroy.

In December, in response to a proposal by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, the board directed its lawyers and staffers to analyze how changes in federal funding could impact county services provided to immigrants and investigate what the county can do to prevent federal immigration enforcement at courts, schools and hospitals.

Solis and Kuehl held a news conference in the morning to reiterate their commitment to that work, including a proposal to protect the data and identities of immigrants and a potential Office of Immigrant Affairs.

But outside, Monroy and her allies were competing with an equally vocal group of anti-immigrant organizations.

Middle-aged white women wearing T-shirts with the slogan “A Stolen Life” and pictures of victims of crimes allegedly committed by undocumented immigrants were joined by a racially diverse group of protesters holding signs reading “Keep Refugees Out” and “No Sanctuary Cities.”

A tall, black man in a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap said the group was “trying to promote Donald Trump’s policies.”

Saying the message was “America for Americans,” Robert Peete of Make California Great Again said taxpayer money should be used for other purposes.

“There are white people in Long Beach living in the canal,” Peete said. “I’ve never seen that in my lifetime.”

Others chanted “Build That Wall” as the two groups battled megaphone-to-megaphone, shouting back and forth and jockeying for room and camera angles on the outdoor stairs leading to the county boardroom.

Sheriff’s deputies stepped in more than once, speaking with representatives from both sides and trying to keep the peace.

Monroy said the two groups often end up in the same venue and there has sometimes been pushing and shoving, but no serious injuries have resulted.

The rallies broke up without incident, with leaders from both sides heading indoors to speak before the board, where Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was forced to repeatedly caution them to stop shouting and disrupting the session.

“Why don’t you try respecting each other and everything will be fine,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Staffers reported that the vast majority of county departments offer services — including medical care and a public school education — to residents without regard to immigration status and do not maintain records on residents’ status. One exception is the Department of Public Social Services, which is required by law to share that information.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell sought to assure residents that his department relies on community trust.

If people do not come forward to report crimes due to fear of deportation, “we’ll have more to worry about and fear than the words spoken on the presidential campaign trail,” McDonnell said.

He said his deputies would not arrest anyone based solely on their immigration status, calling that a “promise” as well as a department policy that is also written into law.

Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington conceded that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are at county jails “almost on a daily basis,” but said that less than 1 percent of inmates released from local jails are turned over to ICE agents.

Harrington said thousands of inmates had been released to ICE annually prior to enactment of the state Truth and Trust acts, which limited ICE hold requests, but put current numbers at closer to 1,000 each year.

Other speakers disagreed.

An “ICE hold gets put on all the clients I’ve seen go through the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department,” said Amanda Schuft of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center. She gave the example of one mentally ill man who spent a weekend in jail for petty theft and was held in ICE custody for two years.

Others argued that the board members weren’t doing what they were elected to do.

“California is under siege,” Tami Terusa of Californians for Trump told the supervisors, warning that the state “is going to be ground zero” in the fight to end sanctuary cities.

Some saw President-elect Donald Trump as a savior.

“This is an attack against the federal government,” said Shirley Husar of Urban Game Changers. “As of January 20, we are asking that Donald J. Trump come and intervene on our behalf.”

Supervisor Kathryn Barger urged her colleagues to press for immigration reform at the federal level, saying she believed that there was bipartisan support for protecting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrvials.

“We have a responsibility to address this on the federal level and not continue to keep these people in the shadows and continue to give them a reason to hide,” Barger said.

More than 120 people signed up to speak before the board on the issue and dozens had that opportunity. But after a near-continuous series of outbursts and warnings, Ridley-Thomas called the board into a closed-door session.

The board returned roughly 90 minutes later and, acting on a motion by Solis, voted 4-1 to establish an Office of Immigrant Affairs. Barger cast the dissenting vote.

The board also directed departments not to ask about immigration status unless required by law and proposed that the county’s Office of Education consider a senior-level position to oversee immigrants’ concerns.