About 70 people, for the most part Latino, crowded inside the San Pablo Apostol Episcopal Church in Seaside on Nov. 19 to hear about an issue that concerns them: deportations.
Being deported has been a long-time concern for many who come to Monterey County without proper documents, but since Sheriff Steve Bernal implemented a new policy allowing federal immigration agents to operate inside county jail, it has become more of a worry.
“Why do you trust [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]?” one resident asked.
“Because I care about your public safety,” Bernal replied. “My number-one priority is to protect Monterey County residents, as well as the undocumented.”
Since the new policy was enacted, deportations have averaged one per day. A total of 122 people have been taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents since mid-August.
Bernal says they have all been convicted of a crime, ranging from a felony to a serious misdemeanor, and that no individuals without a prior conviction have been deported.
But immigration attorney Angie Junck isn’t convinced. She says the problem with the county’s new relationship with ICE is the lack of transparency and accountability with the federal government.
When asked at the town hall meeting – and separately by the Weekly – Bernal could not pinpoint the exact number of deported individuals identified as a priority one, two or three. Priority ones are considered the most serious offenders, while priority threes don’t have a criminal conviction.
“We make sure at county jail [immigration agents] do not deport priority three individuals,” Bernal told residents. But it remains unclear exactly how deputies keep ICE accountable for that. The jail’s new policy makes no mention of deputies reviewing such situations.
Junck, who met with Bernal and Jail Chief Mike Moore two weeks ago, says she was told that about 30 individuals considered priority one have been deported and the rest were considered priority two, meaning they were previously convicted of a serious misdemeanor, or three total misdemeanors.
“We have to rely on getting data from [ICE] to confirm people without criminal histories are not being taken,” Junck says. “There is no way of knowing if that’s happening.”
It’s estimated that 62,000 undocumented immigrants reside in Monterey and San Benito counties, according to 2013 data from the Public Policy Institute of California. A big concern among individuals is what happens to people after they’re taken by ICE.
At the town hall, individuals asked Bernal: “Does a person get an attorney?” “Do we get the opportunity to come back as a legal resident?” “What if for years someone did so much for the community, do they get an appeal?”
Bernal referred those questions to ICE: “Once they are in their custody, we don’t know if they get an attorney.”
Kathryn Mattingly, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, says people “have a right to an attorney at no cost to the government” if they elect to go through the immigration court process or they can