ICE agents
Two agents from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have been stationed at the Oklahoma County Jail since 2015. (Tres Savage)

The presence of agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Oklahoma County Jail took center stage at the jail trust’s meeting Monday.

Currently, there are two ICE agents present at the jail. They have been on site since 2015, Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office general counsel Danny Honeycutt told a packed room.

Those agents’ sole purpose is to verify citizenship and residency status of all inmates, he said.

That differs from the policy of Oklahoma’s second most populated county.

The Tulsa County Jail takes part in ICE’s 287(g) program that “enhances the safety and security of communities by creating partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies to identify and remove aliens who are amenable to removal from the United States,” according to ICE’s website.

The Oklahoma County Jail has no such agreement with ICE and doesn’t honor 48-hour hold requests from the agency, Honeycutt said. The department does notify ICE when an inmate is ready to be released, but whether that agency takes custody on immigration-related matters is often a matter of timing, he said.

In years past, Honeycutt said, deputies would call ICE to verify identification of inmates by phone.

“The only difference is instead of being on the other end of the phone line they are in the building,” he said.

ICE has been the subject of controversy in recent months amid the ongoing crisis surrounding the housing of undocumented immigrants seeking political asylum at the southern border of the United States.

The issue was placed on the agenda by jail trust member Ben Brown. A former state senator, Brown wondered if the presence of agents at the jail ran counter to Mayor David Holt’s recent tweet (embedded below) about Oklahoma City being a welcoming place for immigrants.

Holt’s tweet came in response to one by President Donald Trump who said several minority Democratic congresswomen could go back to where they came from if they don’t like the United States.

‘The deportation machine’

ICE agents
Members of the Oklahoma County Jail Trust discussed the presence of ICE agents at the jail during its meeting Monday, July 22, 2019. (Matt Patterson)

Oklahoma City resident and DACA recipient Cynthia Garcia said she’s been living in Oklahoma for 15 years. Garcia said that, according to an app set up by an immigration advocacy group, 131 inmates at the Oklahoma County Jail have been held on detainers so far this year.

“I believe funneling people into ICE and the deportation machine doesn’t make us safer and it further penalizes the way our communities in Oklahoma are living,” she said.

Garcia said if city, county or state officials were serious about identifying possible illegal immigrants, they should issue official photo identification cards for those people.

Retired high school teacher Deborah Hill spoke of a Guatemalan immigrant family who cleaned her classroom. When the patriarch of that family was deported, it led to the collapse of that family.

“That family fell apart, and we lost them as the caretakers of our building, and it was startling how quickly that building fell apart when they left,” she said.

She spoke of a student in her biology class who told her he would be unable to take advanced placement classes because his father was deported and he was required to go to work to support his family.

“It’s just not right,” she said. “This is not the way we should be doing things.”

Jail trust member and Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey said before the discussion that he recognized multiple sides of the argument. He said his family hosted a refugee from Vietnam during that war but that he realizes there are more parts to the discussion.

“I get it that people are fleeing violence,” he said. “I also recognize other voices in the debate. There are people who are facing competition for jobs from people coming over here.”

Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert isn’t on the jail trust but attended Monday’s meeting. She opposes the presence of ICE agents in the jail.

“I want to create more trust between law enforcement and the public, and in my opinion having ICE agents in the jail doesn’t build that trust,” Blumert said.