Three people were arrested Wednesday evening at a Los Angeles demonstration protesting county jails taking part in a new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative that asks law enforcement officers to notify the agency if they believed an inmate was an undocumented immigrant before he or she was released. The controversial Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) was debated at a public forum hosted by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department before protesters took to the streets, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Several dozen people attended the Duarte, California meeting to discuss the program with a panel of sheriff department and ICE officials. However, thirty minutes into the meeting, members from an anti-PEP group, ICE Out of LA, rose and exited out onto the street. The group is composed of organizations from around the county which "share a deep concern over the issue of mass deportations that continues to separate families within [the] community," according to its Facebook page. "We aim to create an open source campaign where people push for ICE out of LA through diverse and innovative tactics."
Once outside of the meeting, two dozen of its members made their way into the street and blocked traffic as they held signs that said "No papers, no fear, immigrants are standing here."
Sheriff's deputies asked that the protesters clear out of the intersection of Highland Avenue and Huntington Drive, but three protesters refused. Among them was Marcela Hernandez, who said she came to the United States from Mexico, illegally, as a child. Hernandez, 25, told the Los Angeles Times that the initiative affected her personally -- her uncle had been deported after he was arrested for drug-related charges.
"He hasn't seen his U.S. citizen children for five years," Hernandez said. "We should help people rehabilitate instead of deporting them."
The issue has garnered national attention recently after a woman was shot to death July 1 in San Francisco, allegedly by an undocumented immigrant. The suspect, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, is a seven-time felon who had been deported to Mexico five times but was released from San Francisco Sheriff's Department custody -- against ICE's request for him to be held until he could be transferred to a federal facility -- prior to the fatal shooting of Kate Steinle. Lopez-Sanchez would eventually plead not guilty to the charge.
President Obama announced the PEP initiative in November 2014, but the administration did not begin to implement the program until last month, according to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. However, some representatives believed the program did not go far enough.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) issued the following statement:
"The only priority contained in the Priority Enforcement Program is to ensure that our immigration laws are not enforced in the interior of the United States. By scrapping a law enforcement tool that keeps our communities safe and replacing it with a new program that permits the release of criminal aliens, President Obama is needlessly endangering our communities. It’s past time for the Obama Administration to get its priorities straight and protect the American people instead of their political interests."
Goodlatte said the House Judiciary Committee planned to examine the new program along with the Department of Homeland Security.