California County Routinely Sent Detained Youths For Possible Deportation

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Lee

Between October 2009 to February 2013, the Orange County Probation Department (OCPD) routinely sent immigrant juvenile offenders — including those who committed minor crimes — to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency for potential deportation. According to a study out last week by The University of California at Irvine Immigration Law Clinic, nearly half of all immigrant juvenile offenders referred to ICE, had committed non-violent, non-serious crimes, while the rest lacked a criminal history.

The authors of the report, “Second Chances for All: Why Orange County Probation Should Stop Choosing Deportation Over Rehabilitation for Immigrant Youth” found that probation officers were told to “proactively investigate the immigration status of youths” and “refer practically any child with ‘questionable immigration status’ to ICE” in order to assist in the investigation of referred juveniles.

The OCPD single-handedly referred about 43 percent of state-wide ICE detainer requests, including minor offenders. At least 82.5 percent of the youth ICE holds were for Mexican citizens. About 50 percent of youths with a criminal history had non-violent, non-serious crimes, of which 15 percent were charged with possessing false immigration documents and for illegal entry. The rest of the youths with ICE holds had no documented criminal history. Out of those held, 43 juveniles were deported — a move that triggers a lifetime deportation ban.

A slew of issues arise when juveniles are handed over from the probation center to detention center. The report’s author found that OCPD often shared confidential juvenile case information with ICE, even when OCPD officers didn’t fill out forms that allowed its officers to share such information. In some cases, detainers were then issued against any individuals, including U.S. citizens, if officials had “reason to believe the individual is subject to removal.” And when juveniles wound up in immigration court, they weren’t guaranteed legal representation, so some children offenders are left to represent themselves.

It remains to be seen whether policy changes actually diminish the rate of juvenile referrals. In 2011 when the Obama administration released a memo requesting officials to exercise “prosecutorial discretion” for immigrants with non-serious offenses, the OCPD referred about 170 youths to immigration authorities. And even after the OCPD revised its own referral policy in 2012 and the California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a memo saying that ICE hold requests are voluntary, the OCPD still “made a steady, if reduced, number of referrals” that ignored “key problematic aspects of the policy.”

California’s passage of the Trust Act, which will take effect on January 1, 2014, should “substantially limit” the OCPD’s discretion to turn juveniles over to ICE.