Immigration policy, like trade and foreign affairs, was deliberately assigned by our founding fathers to the federal government. The failure of Congress and the Obama Administration to deal with the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally, however, has put enormous pressure on local governments to fill the policy gap. In Orange County, that pressure has led to a policy whereby the local probation department refers children in its care to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. While pressure should be put on the Feds to tackle the immigration issue, the policy, in effect, has generated considerable concern in our Latino neighborhoods and within the legal community.
The UC Irvine School of Law recently issued a critical report on the county’s ICE referral policy. Based on its findings, the Orange County Board of Supervisors should place all referrals of minors to ICE on hold while policy-makers review the matter and consider changes.
Orange County leads the state in referring children to ICE. In fact, Orange County is responsible for 43% of all ICE detention requests in California. The disproportionate size of this figure justifies placing the policy on hold while, at a minimum, an explanation can be formed. While it is true that the youths in question violated the law and were placed under probation, ICE detention significantly and arbitrarily increases the severity of their punishment without reference to the severity of their misconduct. The UCI study summarizes the harm as follows:
The harms of juvenile immigration referrals are many and varied. Immigration referrals tear children away from families to be detained in remote facilities for indefinite periods. In the past several years, hundreds of Orange County’s youth have been separated from their families and communities. Without access to their families and sometimes without legal counsel, children in immigration detention face potential permanent removal from their families and communities. Because our immigration system lacks robust protections for children, deportation may occur even when the child is eligible for or has legal status. Immigration referrals also subvert the purposes of the juvenile justice system, most notably through abandonment of California’s commitment to rehabilitation, confidentiality of juvenile records, and family unity. In addition, referrals to ICE sow distrust of law enforcement among community members, thus undermining community policing efforts. Lastly, immigration referrals unnecessarily divert scarce local resources and expose Orange County to potential civil liability.
Such a state of affairs violates a basic principle in law: that the time should fit the crime. Moreover, the policy’s impact on the wider-community has negative implications for the quality of our Latino neighborhoods.
While a large majority of Latinos support a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, a recent poll shows that the greater concern is with being able to live and work in the U.S. legally without the threat of deportation. The undocumented population, no surprise, is particularly likely to prioritize security from deportation over citizenship. Among Latinos, “it’s the threat of deportation that casts the longest shadow on their communities,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, the Pew Research Center’s director of Hispanic research.
Compared to their counterparts in Orange County’s wealthy communities, it is far more likely for a young person in an immigrant community to come into contact with law enforcement. Moreover, once criminal charges are brought, lack of local connections and financial resources all too often put immigrant children at a significant disadvantage. In any event, the justice system takes a different approach to offending minors. In California, the juvenile justice system is directed to provide minors with “protection and safety” and “preserve and strengthen the minor’s family ties where possible.”
We treat our children differently because our children deserve a second chance at leading a better life. While individual responsibility and the role of the family cannot be understated, the community has a role in making that better life a more likely outcome. At present, it appears we are frustrating the prospects of a better life by forcing our children to be responsible for their immigration status and by subjecting them to the fear of deportation. So as to be responsive to the community for whom it serves, the Orange County Board of Supervisors should put the policy on hold and place it under review.