This coming Monday and Tuesday, May 13 and 14, the Board of Supervisors will be hosting TRUTH forums, and this is your opportunity to speak to us on matters relating to immigration and in particular the county’s interaction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The forum is specially designed to allow ample time for you, the residents of Kern County, to share your concerns and experiences. Last year, we held our first ever TRUTH forum, one session, in the morning. A criticism we heard was that the forum was held during a regular Board of Supervisor meeting, during normal working hours, which meant that some people who wanted to attend couldn’t due to their work schedules. In response to that, this year we scheduled two meetings, one in the evening and one in the morning, to give as many as possible a chance to attend. The forum will be conducted 6 p.m. May 13 and again 9 a.m. May 14 at the Board of Supervisors chambers at 1115 Truxtun Ave. in Bakersfield.

The TRUTH Act, a new California law, requires the county to share with its residents law enforcement interaction with ICE. A group of agencies including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United Farmworkers Foundation (UFWF) and Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance (GBLA) came to our District 4 offices and other county offices to discuss this new law and SB54, the “Values” Act, that also addresses the interaction between the county and ICE.

The meetings have been helpful. I applaud this group for their openness and civility in helping us understand the laws and what our actions need to be to comply with the law. Civil dialogue is critical to understanding each other. The District 4 office has welcomed these interactions and the opportunity it has presented us to better understand the many facets of immigration law and its effect on everyone. These lessons go beyond meetings at my office. We’ve visited the Mesa Verde Detention Facility and learned about the operations and people at these types of facilities. This subject is so much more complicated than can be addressed by sound bites on cable news. We still have a lot to learn.

At this forum, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office will be sharing data on communication with ICE, primarily regarding undocumented inmates at the county jail. The law forbids the county from informing ICE of those undocumented in custody for minor infractions. The law does not forbid the county from informing ICE of more serious offenders. The law requires that the Sheriff’s Office provides this data and report to the community on its interactions, to make sure our actions our transparent.

The federal government and the state government make the laws on immigration, not the county. Our job is to follow those laws, just like you. We can’t have a vibrant community if some people are afraid to come out of the shadows, to attend school, to learn the language and to assimilate. It’s in Kern County’s interest to have a forum, a continued dialogue and to help find solutions to problems that will affect the county adversely if we don’t.

People like to put labels on folks. I’ve been told I’m pro-this and anti-that. Let me tell you directly. I’m pro-Kern County. An educated, inclusive, contributing Kern County populace is good for all of us. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the country is so divided on this issue. We don‘t have to be. We all have a lot to learn, and I’m thankful that I’ve gotten a chance to learn from you. We have so much in common. As Matt Maldonado said last week at the Wasco Community Alliance meeting, “We are so much stronger together.”

There you have it. I’ve said my piece. Come to the TRUTH Forum meeting next Monday or Tuesday and say yours. See you there. Questions? Call our office at 661-8683680 or email us at district4@kerncounty.com.

David Couch represents Kern County's Fourth District.

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