LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com)  —  LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is speaking out for the first time Thursday about a controversial new policy that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to detain and deport inmates.

The policy is not sitting well with critics, reports KCAL9’s Political Reporter Dave Bryan.

In what may be the most important policy decision he has made as LA County Sheriff, McDonnell decided last week to allow federal agents from ICE, to operate inside county jails.

The policy, Bryan reports, is already being carried out.

The decision has triggered charges that his new policy could bring back racial profiling and stereotyping of immigrants who are arrested, echoes of the not-too-distant past according to some critics..

Bryan mentioned that some people who had minor traffic offenses found themselves deported. Or street vendors who didn’t have the proper license.

“We’re not going to be in a position to give ICE access,” he said, “for the people you mentioned. this is not for people and very low-level crimes. But we want to be able to protect the community from predators. So we don’t put violent people back on the same streets we took them off from”

Crimes like rape, robbery, homicide, burglary.

“We are not satisfied with Sheriff McDonnell’s letter,” says critic Polo Morales, “we think there are serious concerns that need to be raised.”

Morales, political director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), is  skeptical that the safeguards will protect the rights of undocumented immigrants and could chip away at the trust that has been built between the Sheriff’s Department and immigrant communities.

“The fear about this is, that people end up in the county jail system,” Morales says, “for any number of reasons. It can be serious issues and sometimes they just find themselves in certain circumstances. The undocumented community doesn’t feel comfortable engaging with law enforcement then they’re not going to report crimes and that’s not something we want for anybody.”

ICE agents used to have an office in a modest room at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility — now they have no permanent workspace there.

Instead, Bryan reports, they work out of a small room which is open to any outside law enforcement agency with business at the jail.

If they want to interview an inmate usually it will happen here. But Sheriff McDonnell says under the rules of his new policy, ICE can only interview inmates in cases where there’s strong evidence they’re in the country illegally and have been convicted of a serious felony.

“One of the criticisms,” said O’Donnell, ” is that there was this belief that ICE would have this unfettered access, walking around the jails, questioning people. Where did you grow up, what is your immigration status? Those kind of things are not going to happen.”

When inmates are about to be released from the jail the inmates line up in a hallway.

Those who have been certified for detention by ICE and possible deportation, must be pulled out and taken to an ICE van before they get to a processing release area.

Under the new policy as outlined by McDonnell, no inmates will not be held for ICE beyond their scheduled release from jail.

The Sheriff told Bryan he believes, in time, these new policies will prove to be effective — without being oppressive.

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