This week I wanted to discuss what seems to be the most controversial issue in our nation at this moment: immigration. It’s important for all of us to understand the roles of all the different jurisdictions of government so that we can better know where one goes to get the results we want. As part of that, I have made it a goal of our office to better understand immigration law and policy and to understand where the county fits in this equation.
As part of that education process, District 4 staff including myself have attended seminars and met with experts on immigration. As it turns out, immigration law is considered the second most complex set of laws, just behind tax law. This week we toured the Mesa Verde Detention Facility, an ICE-funded facility in Bakersfield. The facility holds undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers until their court-determined immigration status is decided. I wanted to make sure conditions were humane for our undocumented detainees within that facility. During my tour, I was accompanied by attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the United Farmworkers Foundation (UFWF). I saw nothing that made me fear for the safety and well-being of these detainees while they were in the custodial care of ICE and its contractor for the facility, GEO. Nor did the ACLU or UFWF attorneys express grave concerns about the facility’s operation.
To be clear, the county has no jurisdictional authority over this facility. The facility, and immigration in general, is driven by federal and state rules. The county doesn’t make immigration law, although it is bound to follow the laws established. While the circumstances that led to the need for a detention facility of this sort is unfortunate, the positive benefit of this facility being here is that families can visit (and they do) without having to travel far away. This would cause additional stress on an already unfortunate experience.
The county does have a role regarding immigration, and we coordinate closely with the ACLU, UFWF and other agencies to make sure this role is followed correctly. Some new state laws have arisen that require the county to be transparent and limit communication with ICE as prescribed by law. For instance, we may have inmates in our county jail that are undocumented. The law establishes that the county does not notify ICE of these undocumented people’s status unless these undocumented people have committed more serious crimes. The county needs to have policies in place that show compliance with the state law. We have met regularly with immigrant rights groups, Kern County Counsel and the Sheriff’s Office to make sure we are in compliance with the law and that we are transparent. As part of this transparency that is required by law, a public meeting is mandated, called the TRUTH forum, that allows the public to address their concerns. Our first TRUTH forum ever was conducted at the Board of Supervisors meeting last December. This year, as the chair of the board, I have asked that we move this meeting up and that we have an evening and night session at the Board of Supervisor Chambers so that the public can have an opportunity to address its concerns. This meeting is being scheduled for early May. I welcome you all to attend.
We live in a diverse community. I represent a diverse district. My goal is to make sure I represent everyone and that we hear your concerns. Take advantage of this public forum, the TRUTH forum, to address your concerns regarding this hot issue. Better yet, take advantage of our weekly Board of Supervisors meetings to address any issue regarding county government. That is one reason why we have these meetings — to get the public’s input.
Contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 661-868-3680 if you have questions. See you next week.
David Couch represents Kern County's Fourth District.