Improving Transparency on OCSD’s ICE Transfers: Lessons From a Cross-County Comparison of TRUTH Act Forums
Over the last several years, thanks to the persistent advocacy of residents and community organizations, the number of transfers of individuals from Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) to Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody has dramatically decreased. One tool that advocates have used to hold local law enforcement accountable for its entanglements with ICE are the annual TRUTH Act forums.
The Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act, which went into effect in 2017, requires local legislative bodies to hold forums if local law enforcement allows ICE access to any individual. Since county sheriff’s departments have historically transferred many community members to ICE, county Boards of Supervisors often must hold TRUTH Act forums during their meetings. During these forums, local law enforcement – the county sheriff’s department – presents data on ICE transfers. These are the minimum requirements for TRUTH Act forums. Because the language of the TRUTH Act refers to the forums as such, we believe that Boards of Supervisors should endeavor to exceed the minimum requirements of the TRUTH Act forums so that they better resemble forums: venues that allow for community engagement and dialogue.
Out of the 24 counties we identified that have held TRUTH Act forums since the law went into effect, nine of the Boards of Supervisors have had, at least twice, had a community-based organization attend to provide presentations with slides in addition to the county sheriff’s department. Community-based organizations’ presentations often include questions or comments collected from community members. While in most cases any member of the public may present slides or other materials to a Board of Supervisors if they submit those materials in advance, we view the presence of community-based organizations with slideshow presentations during TRUTH Act forums as suggestive of an environment that encourages substantial community participation – or even of supervisors who may have reached out to organizations and community members to encourage them to participate. Orange County is currently not one of the few counties that has at least twice had a community-based organization present a slideshow presentation before or during the public comment section of its TRUTH Act forums.
Timing of forums also varies widely across counties. Since TRUTH Act forums must be held during meetings of the respective governing body and Boards of Supervisors usually start regular meetings in the mornings, most TRUTH Act forums end up being held during morning supervisorial meetings – hours inaccessible to much of the public. Some counties, such as Ventura and San Diego, schedule TRUTH Act forums to start in the afternoon or evening, and the supervisors recess after they conduct regular business in the morning until the TRUTH Act forum is scheduled to begin. Only five of the 24 identified counties have more than once scheduled TRUTH Act forums in the evening at or after 5:00PM, after most people finish the standard work day. In some cases, such as that of Stanislaus, these are counties that already hold their regular Board of Supervisors meetings in the evening. Orange County’s TRUTH Act forums have all been held during morning Board of Supervisors meetings without being scheduled at any specific times, forcing constituents who wish to hear about or speak on the matter to wait for an indefinite amount of time until the Board considers the item on the agenda.
While encouraging presentations from community-based organizations and adjusting meeting times are far from the only ways to make TRUTH Act forums more accessible, they are likely the most feasible and quickest changes Boards of Supervisors can make to enhance accessibility and possibilities for participation. Other potential improvements include dedicating a separate web page on the county Board of Supervisors website for materials presented during TRUTH Act forums so the public can easily locate and browse information presented by the sheriff’s department rather than having to search through lengthy agenda packets or long video recordings. Additionally, supervisors working with sheriff’s departments that do not present demographic data of individuals transferred to ICE during TRUTH Act forums should consider using the forums as venues to request more detailed demographic data.
Although TRUTH Act forums are required to be held if there were any ICE transfers the year prior, counties are not prohibited from holding TRUTH Act forums if their sheriff’s departments do not report transferring any community members to ICE the year prior. Contra Costa County, for example, still conducts TRUTH Act forums. The continuation of TRUTH Act forums allows for a regular, annual venue for community members and organizations to continue to ask county law enforcement questions since interactions with ICE may not necessarily be limited to transfers alone. Even if the Orange County Sheriff’s Department reports transferring zero community members to ICE in the near future, the Board of Supervisors can and should still hold TRUTH Act forums to continue to provide a regular venue for residents and advocates to ask questions and raise concerns around ICE’s entanglements with local law enforcement.
As a county with large immigrant and refugee populations and with a sheriff’s department that has historically transferred high volumes of individuals to ICE custody, Orange County’s TRUTH Act forums should be much more accessible than they have been thus far. TRUTH Act forums can be improved by:
- Encouraging substantial presentations from community-based organizations
- Adjusting meeting times to be more accessible to the working-class public
- Making information and data presented during forums more detailed and easily accessible online
- Continuing to hold TRUTH Act forums regardless of whether OCSD reports transferring community members to ICE
- Ensuring that meeting notices are widely circulated, particularly through local and ethnic media
These are just a few ways to make TRUTH Act forums better resemble forums that can foster increased community engagement and empower the public to shed more light on immigration enforcement in our local communities. Still, ultimately, local law enforcement collaboration with federal law enforcement must end for our communities to be truly safe.