REGION — Immigrants arrested for being undocumented face an increasingly frustrating situation that often begins with their arrest.
When an undocumented immigrant is arrested, they are not necessarily read their rights, not told for instance that they have a right to an attorney, according to Tazheen Nizam, chair of the North County Immigration Task Force.
And once they are in custody, what happens next depends on whether they can make bail and the discretion of the judge.
According to Victor Torres, San Diego federal criminal defense attorney, bail amounts vary from judge to judge and where the defendant is being held.
“It’s up to the judge,” Torres said. “And if the family doesn’t have the money to post bail the defendant will stay in custody, even if they have no criminal record other than being undocumented.”
Nizam said that bail amounts used to be a couple thousand dollars but “… lately judges are setting absurd amounts of bail, as much as $20,000 in some cases.” She also said that some judges are no longer permitting defendants’ families to secure a bail bond through a bondsman, instead requiring the bail to be paid in cash.
Although some immigrants are deported immediately, most are seen first in criminal court and then appear before an immigration judge. Torres said that although he doesn’t know the exact statistics, he believes that most defendants are deported.
“Very few will qualify for adjustment of status,” Torres explained, meaning that they will not be able to prove that his or her deportation would cause hardship.
Nizam and other immigrants’ rights advocates are concerned about Operation Streamline, which was instituted in Southern California a few weeks ago.
The program, created under the George W. Bush administration, allows up to 30 or even 40 people at a time to appear before an immigration judge. Nizam said that the defendants are often shackled together and they’re given less than 10 minutes to talk to an attorney.
Streamlining was more prevalent under the Obama administration, but was reserved for those immigrants who had been deported once and had come back into the country. However, since President Donald Trump’s administration announced a “zero-tolerance” policy, anyone who enters or entered the country illegally, could potentially be deported under what critics call “assembly-line justice.”
ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents have gone as far as staking out businesses and arresting customers when they exit the building.
“In June ICE agents stood outside a Starbucks in Vista in the early morning and waited until a couple, husband and wife, walked out,” Nizam said. “They immediately arrested them and the couple, who have children, were deported.”
The North County Immigration Task Force, a group of activists and organizations, was created five years ago to work with the immigrant community around the issues of advocacy, education and rights. “But these days, because of cases like that one, our focus is more on helping immigrants understand their rights,” Nizam said.
She related other stories: shortly after President Trump’s inauguration, a father and son who lived in Escondido were driving home from work and were stopped ostensibly because they had a broken tail light. They were arrested for being undocumented and were deported. Another father was stopped by ICE on his way into work one day, who was released before being arrested at his house the following morning.
“A lot of our work now is helping families get ready when the parent or parents are going to be or is deported,” Nizam said. “We help them find a pro-bono attorney, help them find agencies who can provide financial assistance, help them figure out who the children can stay with.”
The San Diego Rapid Response Network is one of the core organizations in the North County Immigration Task Force. It was created in response to the increased immigration enforcement activities in the county. Citizens who are either experiencing an immigration emergency such as a raid, arrest, checkpoint and/or harassment, or witnessing such an event can call the 24-hour hotline (619-536-0823) A responder will be sent to the site to monitor the situation. “We don’t interact,” Nizam explained. “Responders just document what they observe and report back to the attorneys.”
Regarding DUI checkpoints, Nizam said that they’ve become more common recently and are often being used to find undocumented immigrants. “With the checkpoints, anyone’s fair game now,” she said. Such checkpoints are particularly problematic in cities such as Escondido, which collaborates directly with ICE. “At one time the Escondido police department shared an office with ICE,” she said. “They don’t any longer but they still collaborate.”
Currently, there is an ICE office outside the Vista sheriff’s office.
“So someone could go to the sheriff’s office and when they step outside, ICE agents might be waiting to arrest them.”
Citizens who are concerned about immigrants’ rights and want to help either by volunteering or making monetary donations are encouraged to visit the North County Immigration Task Force Facebook profile: https://www.facebook.com/760NCITf/.
The San Diego Rapid Response Network website is: http://www.rapidresponsesd.org.
Casa Cornelia is a public interest law firm that provides pro bono legal services to victims of human and civil rights violations, the website is: http://www.casacornelia.org.