Immigrant advocates asked the Hennepin County Board on Tuesday to improve the criminal justice process for county inmates facing deportation.
The speakers, representing a coalition of immigration organizations, made their points during a discussion of the 2018 public safety budget by the board’s Administration Committee.
They argued that people facing deportation after arrest for low-level crimes often aren’t informed of their legal rights, and too often end up in the hands of federal immigration agents without legal representation.
“Something is wrong with the system,” Maria Edith Silva, of Minnetonka, told the committee through a translator. “It’s in your hands to fix this problem in the system, at least the issue of legal representation.”
At the end of the meeting, Committee Chairman Peter McLaughlin said it’s likely the county would update the budget to include funding for legal representation for immigrants here illegally, although he didn’t specify how much.
“I think there’s going to be a budget amendment to try to provide resources for legal help,” he said. “It’s got a good chance of passing.”
After the county’s truth-in-taxation hearing next Tuesday, commissioners will amend the budget before finalizing it and next year’s property tax levy on Dec. 12.
The testimony came after the heads of the county’s public safety departments presented their proposed budgets. They included Hennepin County Sheriff Richard Stanek, who answered several questions about his department’s relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Stanek’s office has come under fire in the last year for asking detainees for their city of birth and nationality when booked and alerting ICE when foreign-born inmates are jailed.
“Why does [Stanek] feel compelled to ask this question of place of birth … when somebody gets booked into the jail?” McLaughlin asked.
Advocates said that less communication with ICE and more funds for legal aid could help inmates win their case and prevent their own deportation.
“Changes in protocol in the Sheriff’s Office would be helpful in that regard, and if there are resources to help provide the legal assistance, that’s going to close the loop,” McLaughlin said.
The proposed 2018 budget for the Sheriff’s Office is $108.9 million, an increase of 4.4 percent from this year, according to county documents. Some who testified said additional money should be put toward legal aid.
“Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants who are facing deportation are not guaranteed legal representation,” Jane McBride, principal minister at First Congregational Church in Minneapolis, told the committee. “Trim [Stanek’s] budget a bit and put a little of that money aside for immigrant legal defense.”
Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty, who has been critical of the tactics of deputies at the jail, was in the board chambers presenting her budget. She told the committee that other counties and cities are taking steps to clarify legal rights for undocumented inmates. New York City has passed laws restricting ICE’s presence at Rikers Island, the city’s main jail, and informing inmates of their rights in their own language, she said.
“There are many different ways we could approach this issue,” Moriarty said.