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I.C.E. under fire

Tulsans question moral, financial cost of immigrant detention



Chris Shoaf and Rosa Hernandez, activists with Dream Alliance Oklahoma

Makaila McGonigal

A coalition of immigration advocates are raising awareness for a campaign to end Tulsa County’s partnership with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—a partnership that is separating families right here in Tulsa.

The 287(g) contract authorizes the Tulsa County Sheriff’s office to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants and detain them at the David L. Moss detention center for days or months until they’re turned over to ICE for deportation proceedings.

The push from activists to end the contract comes as national reports illuminate thousands of cases of child abuse and neglect at immigration detention centers operated by ICE across the country. Moreover, President Donald Trump’s inhumane crackdown on migrant and asylum seekers entering the U.S.-Mexico border received a harsh rebuke from Congress, as both the House and the Senate have voted to end Trump’s emergency declaration for border wall funding, forcing the embattled president to sign his first veto.

Rosa Hernandez is a millennial Tulsan and undocumented Mexican immigrant who isn’t shy about seeking justice for people like herself. She moved from Tijuana to the U.S. at age four.

“Growing up [I wasn’t] able to do things other teenagers were doing—I couldn’t get a job or my first car at the same time my friends were,” Hernandez said. “All because I didn’t have these papers my mom kept talking about. It just didn’t seem fair.”

Hernandez said seeing the effects of deportations on other families growing up lit a fire inside her to speak out. She eventually joined Dream Alliance Oklahoma (DAOK) before becoming a leader in organizing the coalition to end the 287(g) contract.

“I wanted to be someone others could look at and say, ‘Wow, she’s just like me. She’s working to make a change, and I want to do that too,’” Hernandez said.

Despite the sheriff’s support for the contract, Hernandez and other activists may have the chance to end the contract if two out of the three Tulsa County commissioners vote in their favor at a renewal hearing slated for this June.

At least one commissioner may be on the side of ending the contract, according to Linda Allegro, project director at New Sanctuary Network Tulsa and one of the main organizers for the coalition to end the 287(g) contract.

District Two County Commissioner Karen Keith is “sympathetic to [the coalition],” Allegro said. “Ron Peters is on the fence, and Stan Sallee is not sympathetic to us.”

Linda Allegro, a U.S. citizen whose mother was from Nicaragua, studied Central American politics in the 80s during another time of political upheaval and mass migration.

“People getting swept up in this have deep roots in our community,” Allegro said. “People who’ve lived here 10 to 20 years. They have families, jobs, homes, bank accounts, and cars. The effect is devastating.”

Allegro said that while the U.S. government in the 1990s sought out the importation of Mexican labor under the North American Free Trade Agreement, it has offered no pathway to citizenship since then, resulting in mass deportations of families.

“When they’re deported, they’re literally dropped off at the border with nothing. It’s cruel,” Allegro said.

When asked for her reaction to national reports of child abuse at ICE detention centers, Allegro said she was outraged but not surprised. After being told by their parents that the U.S. is a place of safety, Allegro said kids are then harshly torn from their families and intimidated by U.S. agents.

“And at a lot of those detention centers there’s no cameras. The press can’t get in. So, it’s a perfect situation for a predator.”

Chris Shoaf is a member of the coalition who focuses on gathering data. He said goes through the rosters at the county jail every week for booking information on any person that’s put under immigration detainment locally and specifically for the 287(g) contract.

Shoaf said that while there is a second partnership called Intergovernmental Service Agreement, in which the county jails houses 240 beds specifically for ICE detainments, the coalition is focusing solely on ending the 287(g) contract as the best place to start.

“If we didn’t have IGSA or 287(g), we could get rid of three sections of the jail,” Shoaf said. That would result in roughly 300 less people Tulsans’ taxes would be paying to house, feed and provide for care.

According to Shoaf’s calculations, it costs roughly $9,000 per day to maintain the 287(g) contract, outpacing the relatively modest payments the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office receives for housing immigrants under the contract. Shoaf said the jail shouldn’t be used as a way to receive funds for housing undocumented immigrants for months at a time.

For Rosa Hernandez, fostering solutions to the national immigration problem involves leaders asking the right questions and that allies need to understand they must be willing to become accomplices at any minute that goes beyond a social media post.

“Yes, there’s violence and poverty in those countries, but why is that happening? Who is involved in that? What countries are exploiting their resources and starting useless wars?” Hernandez said, alluding to the decades-long involvement of the U.S. destabilizing and collapsing the leadership of Central American countries.

But whatever has pushed people out of their home countries and into a Tulsa County holding cell, one thing is sure: They have advocates fighting for them on the outside.

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