California protests over police shooting of black man

Protests have broken out again in the capital of the US state of California after an autopsy contradicted police accounts of the shooting of a black man. Another larger rally is planned for Saturday.

Protesters in California (Reuters/B. Strong)

Some 200 demonstrators took to the streets of the US city of Sacramento on Friday evening after an autopsy showed that police had fatally shot an unarmed black man, Stephon Clark, in the back.

The results of the independent examination went against police statements that Clark had been approaching them when he was killed.

The protesters gathered first at city hall before marching into the old part of the Californian capital, known for its bars and restaurants. Although the four-hour protest caused some disruption and blocked traffic, it remained largely peaceful.

Read moreUS police say black shootings, protests make job riskier and more difficult

Series of deaths

Clark’s death was the latest in a series of fatal police shootings of black men that have led to protests across the United States and accusations that the American justice system is biased against the country’s black community.

The 22-year-old father of two was shot dead in his grandparents’ yard on March 18 by police responding to a report that someone was breaking windows. Police initially said he was walking toward officers in a menacing way with an object in his hands — later found to be a cellphone — when he was killed.

However, details from an autopsy released on Friday showed that Clark was hit six times in the back, once in the side and once in the leg.

Autopsy diagram of Stephon Clark shooting (Getty Images/J. Sullivan)The autopsy contradicted police accounts of the killing

‘Questionable circumstances’

A lawyer for Clark’s family, Benjamin Crump said: “This independent autopsy affirms that Stephon was not a threat to police and was slain in another senseless police killing under increasingly questionable circumstances.”

The fact that Clark took three to 10 minutes to die, with police waiting some five minutes to render aid, has further fueled anger and grief at his death.

 Bennet Omalu (picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Pedroncelli)The autopsy was carried out by famed pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu

The killing had already sparked numerous peaceful protests in the past two weeks, and another is planned for Saturday afternoon, this time organized by former NBA player Matt Barnes.

The rally is planned to take place just hours before a major basketball game in a downtown arena will draw thousands of fans.

Hand holding up picture of Stephon Clark (Getty Images/J. Sullivan)Several protests have already taken place over Clark’s death

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Wednesday that the shooting was a “local matter.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said state justice officials will oversee the investigation and look into Sacramento police procedures and practices.

tj/rc (Reuters, AP)

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COURTESY: DW

Anti-Trump protesters put their message to the president in lights

Jesse Madera holds a flag that is an amalgamation of the U.S. and Mexico flags while he and other people chant, protesting President Trump.
Jesse Madera holds a flag that is an amalgamation of the U.S. and Mexico flags while he and other people chant, protesting President Trump. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)
Tudor Popescu
Tudor Popescu (Melissa Etehad / Los Angeles Times)

A few hundred protesters assembled outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel on Tuesday night as they awaited the expected arrival of President Trump, who attended a fundraiser in Beverly Park earlier in the evening.

Chants of “Not my president, not my system” echoed down the block as curious bystanders stood nearby.

Tudor Popescu, 38, brought a projector to cast “Oppose Racism. Oppose Trump” in bright lettering on Figueroa Tower across the street from the hotel. Trump has frequently been the target of strongly worded messages projected onto the Washington, D.C., hotel bearing his name.

Popescu, a software engineer, said he spent the day protesting in Beverly Hills and traveled with about 15 other protesters on a bus to downtown L.A.

“It’s a sad day to have Trump here,” he said. “But our spirit isn’t broken.”

Protesters rally at 7th and Figueroa streets waiting for the arrival of President Trump to the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel.
Protesters rally at 7th and Figueroa streets waiting for the arrival of President Trump to the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel at 7th and Figueroa streets
Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the InterContinental Los Angeles Downtown Hotel at 7th and Figueroa streets (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Protesters make their presence known across the street from the Intercontinental Hotel where President was staying in

Courtesy: L A Times

 

 

Trump: Gov. Brown is ‘doing a terrible job running the state of California’

President Trump tours border wall built with excess scrap metal donated by the military.

“The state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas, they don’t tell you that.”

President Trump seemed to confirm Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent complaint that the president is “going to war against” the state, telling reporters during his first visit that Brown is “doing a terrible job.”

“Gov. Brown’s done a very poor job running California,” Trump said while inspecting border wall prototypes in San Diego. “They have the highest taxes in the United States. The place is totally out of control.”

He noted that he owns property in the state. “The taxes are way, way out of whack and people are going to start to move pretty soon.”

Trump spoke at length with border agents as he looked at samples of wall types and stated his preference for a “see-through” version as he stood beside a prototype that was not transparent.

“The problem is you have to have see through. You have to know what’s on the other side of the wall,” Trump said. “You could be two feet away from a criminal cartel and you don’t even know they’re there.”

The president insisted that California political leaders actually want walls, despite what they say in opposition. “The state of California is begging us to build walls in certain areas. They don’t tell you that,” he said.

Trump also held up drawings of wall renderings and discussed progress in immigration enforcement since the 1990s, when current barriers were erected in the area. Prior to that time, he said, “It was an open wound, frankly.”

“They reestablished law and order when they put up a wall in San Diego,” Trump said, citing comments made by the border agent who led his tour. “You hear it, folks. Say what you want. These are the facts of life.”

Courtesy: L A Times

California leaders rebuke Sessions as ‘going to war’ over state immigration policy

He arrived a day after suing California over its laws to shield immigrants living in the state illegally

  

A long-simmering battle between the Trump administration and California over immigration boiled over Wednesday, with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions deriding the state’s “irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies” and Gov. Jerry Brown accusing the federal government of launching “a reign of terror.”

“This is basically going to war against the state of California,” Brown declared.

As the Justice Department formally filed a legal challenge to state immigration laws, Sessions told a gathering of law enforcement officers in Sacramento that California was attempting to keep federal immigration officials from doing their jobs, and he charged Democrats with advancing the political agendas of “radical extremists.”

He took particular aim at Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had warned immigrant communities about recent federal raids in the Bay Area, and at Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for praising her actions.

“So here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you?” Sessions said of the Brown protege. “Contrary to what you may hear from open-borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland or anyone else to actively, effectively enforce immigration laws.”

The remarks drew protests and sharp rebukes from state leaders, underscoring huge rifts over the role of law enforcement in federal immigration policy.

President Trump has made restricting immigration a central focus of his agenda and has frequently criticized California for resistance to his calls to increase deportations. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump would make his first visit to California since becoming president next week, to assess prototypes for the border wall he wants built between California and Mexico and to attend a GOP fundraiser.

California Democratic leaders and the state’s top law enforcement officer responded with war talk of their own, describing Sessions’ actions as unprecedented. In fiery tweets, speeches and at a news conference at the Capitol, the Democrats said the Justice Department lawsuit is based on lies and challenges California’s sovereignty.

The governor called Sessions’ actions a political stunt, aimed at distracting the public from guilty pleas made by Trump’s advisors in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Let’s face it, the Trump White House is under siege,” Brown said. “Obviously, the attorney general has found it hard just to be a normal attorney general. He’s been caught up in the whirlwind of Trumpism … [and is] initiating a reign of terror.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), author of one of the laws targeted by the legal challenge, accused Sessions of having ideology based on “white supremacy and white nationalism.”

De León said he is directing former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., under contract to provide legal advice to the state Senate, to help formulate a response to submit in court. On a conference call with reporters, Holder said legal precedent makes clear that the federal government cannot insist that a state use its resources to enforce federal immigration law.

“From my perspective, the Trump administration’s lawsuit is really a political and unconstitutional attack on the state of California’s well-established rights under our system of government,” Holder said.

The three laws administration officials seek to challenge make it a crime for business ownersto voluntarily help federal agents find and detain undocumented workers, prohibit local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody and create a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.

Administration officials allege the laws, passed by the Legislature last year and signed by Brown, blatantly obstruct federal immigration law and thus violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence over state enactments.

State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has pledged to defend the measures in court, saying they work in concert with federal laws. “Our teams work together to go after drug dealers, to combat gang violence, to take down sex-trafficking rings, and we have no intention of changing that,” he said Wednesday.

In his speech to more than 100 police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers, Sessions argued that the Trump administration did not reject immigration, but said the U.S. should not reward those who unlawfully enter the country with benefits, such as legal status, food stamps and work permits.

He said the federal government sued California to invalidate and immediately freeze what he called unjust laws.

“We are going to fight these irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you and our federal officers,” Sessions said as he finished his speech to the California Peace Officers Assn., and some officers stood in ovation. “You can be certain about this: We have your back, and you have our thanks.”

As the group welcomed Sessions with applause, a statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups gathered outside to protest his arrival.

The lawsuit and Sessions’ visit are the latest volley in an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders in California, where laws have been passed to extend healthcare, driver’s licenses and education to some of the more than 2.3 million immigrants living in the state illegally.

The event is usually a time for law enforcement officers to mingle with lawmakers, lobby for legislation and receive guidance from leaders on law enforcement priorities across the state. But Sessions’ appearance swept the attention away.

Police officers said the state’s immigration laws had not impeded their jobs so far, but the constant battles between state and federal leaders were affecting their relationships with federal partners.

Fairfield Police Chief Randy Fenn said the lawsuit raised concerns about whether law enforcement agencies would be caught in the middle of a larger immigration battle.

“We are waiting to see how this shakes out,” Fenn said.

Neil Gallucci, second vice president of the state peace officers group, said Sessions’ opinion was important to understand as the federal lawsuit had the potential to change California laws.

“Atty. Gen. Sessions is the top law enforcement officer in the United States of America,” Gallucci said. “It would be foolish for us not to listen to where we may be headed and to understand what all the issues are. That is what this forum is for.”

Though the state government’s foray into immigration issues has drawn criticism outside California in recent months, it has broad support within the state. A January poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 58% of likely voters wanted state and local immigration action. Among all adults, support rose to 65% of those surveyed.

Law enforcement officials have been divided on the issue. The most contested of the statutes — the so-called sanctuary state law — limits state and local law enforcement agencies from using any resources to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents, unless they have violent or serious criminal convictions.

For many officers across the state, that won’t change much of their daily work. Some police and sheriff’s agencies already have developed similar restrictions on working with immigration agents, either through their own policies or under local “sanctuary city” rules.

The California Police Chiefs Assn. moved its official position from opposed to neutral after final changes to the bill, but the California State Sheriffs’ Assn. remained opposed.

Outside Sessions’ speech Wednesday, a few hundred people gathered to protest. Right before the speech began, protesters spilled out onto a major street, blocking traffic, and then marched around the building.

Maria Isabel Serrano, 46, from Imperial County, said the attorney general should focus on violent crimes, not immigration.

“This is the only place where we have a sanctuary,” Serrano said in Spanish. “This lawsuit is uncalled for.”

The protests are perhaps just a preview of what’s to come. Trump will make his first trip to California on Tuesday, the White House announced. He will view border wall prototypes in San Diego and raise money at a high-dollar fundraiser in Beverly Hills.

Times staff writers John Myers and Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

 

Trump DOJ sues California over ‘interference’ with immigration enforcement

The Trump Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday night against California, saying three recently-passed state laws were deliberately interfering with federal immigration policies.

It marked the latest legal and political confrontation with the nation’s most populous state, which the federal government says has repeatedly stood in the way of its plans to step up enforcement actions in the workplace and against criminal aliens.

“The Department of Justice and the Trump Administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair, and unconstitutional policies,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions was expected to tell California law enforcement officers on Wednesday. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America.”

The state’s Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, fired back: “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”

Sessions and Rosenstein were spotted dining together hours after the president's criticism. Republicans say a special counsel is warranted because of the high legal standard for obtaining a surveillance warrant.

Federal officials are seeking an injunction to immediately block enforcement of the three California laws, each enacted within the past year.

One of those laws offers additional worker protections against federal immigration enforcement actions. Senior Justice Department officials have said it’s prevented companies from voluntarily cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

Employers are mandated under the law to demand ICE agents present a warrant or subpoena before entering certain areas of the premises, or when accessing some employee records.

Some companies have complained they’ve felt torn between trying to comply with seemingly contradictory state and federal statutes, since penalties for non-compliance can be steep from both entities.

Another state law dubbed known by critics as the “sanctuary state” bill protects immigrants without legal residency by limiting state and municipal cooperation with the feds, including what information can be shared about illegal-immigrant inmates.

A third law gives state officials the power to monitor and inspect immigrant detention facilities either run directly by, or contracted through, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Justice Department has said it’s confident the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause gives it broad authority to supersede state laws that it says interfere with its immigration enforcement obligations.

President Trump threatens to pull ICE agents out of California over the state's sanctuary state police; retired Marine Corps sergeant Tommy Kilbride reacts.

Still, state officials in the past have cited the 10th Amendment’s guarantee of states not being compelled to enforce federal laws.

“We’ve seen this B-rated movie before. So we’re not totally surprised,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in response to the new lawsuit.

The Justice Department is also reviewing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn of an immigration sweep in advance, which ICE said allowed hundreds of immigrants to escape detention. “Oakland is a city of immigrants. We will continue to exercise our legal right to exist as a sanctuary city. We will continue to inform all residents about their Constitutional rights, and we will continue to support California’s sanctuary status,” the Democratic mayor responded.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WITH SEX, ROBBERY CONVICTIONS AMONG THOSE WHO EVADED CAPTURE AFTER OAKLAND MAYOR’S WARNING

An estimated 2.5 million immigrants are believed to be in California illegally. In the most recent figures, ICE has reported about 16 percent of its enforcement apprehensions take place in that state.

The latest legal action by the Trump administration is part of an aggressive push to enforce existing immigration laws, with Sessions in previous remarks citing a porous U.S. border with Mexico, and the threat of criminal activity by immigrant gangs.

Zarate is awaiting sentencing for possessing a weapon.

Federal officials repeatedly have cited the case of Kate Steinle, shot to death by an illegal alien and seven-time felon in San Francisco, one of 35 communities in the state declaring itself a “sanctuary city.”

The Justice Department in January threatened California and other states with subpoenas and a loss of grant money for repeatedly failing to respond to requests for immigration compliance under a federal law known as Section 1373.

Federal officials would not say whether other states were at risk of similar lawsuits over their alleged non-compliance with immigration laws.

A coordinated ICE enforcement action last month on businesses in the Los Angeles area netted 212 people arrested for violating federal immigration laws, 88 percent of whom were convicted criminals, officials said.

Fox News’ Melissa Chrise, Jake Gibson, Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Biggest storm of the season moves into California, bringing warnings of blizzards and mudslides

The storm was expected to significantly improve California’s anemic snowpack, which is a key source of water for a state that edged back into drought due to the dry winter. Forecasters were predicting up to 7 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, with up to 10 feet possible in the highest elevations in the mountain range.

  

After enduring one of its driest winters on record, California was being hit Friday by a frigid storm moving in from the Gulf of Alaska that triggered blizzard and avalanche warnings in the Sierra Nevada and concerns about more mudslides and flash-flooding in the southern part of the state.

“It’s the biggest storm of the season,” said Jim Mathews, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “Of course, February was a dud of a month, so March is coming in like a roaring lion.”

The storm was expected to significantly improve California’s anemic snowpack, which is a key source of water for a state that edged back into drought due to the dry winter. Forecasters were predicting up to 7 feet of snow in the Sierra Nevada, with up to 10 feet possible in the highest elevations in the mountain range.

But to the south, predictions of heavy rain brought fears of more flooding in areas hit by last December’s firestorms, particularly in Montecito, where mudslides in January killed more than 20 people.

Around 4 a.m. Patrick Braid, owner of the Village Cheese and Wine store in Montecito, put on his boots and raincoat and hopped in his Range Rover as rain started to pour down. He wanted to head out to areas most at risk of mud flow to check on his neighbors and help people who didn’t evacuate. “Let’s do this!” he shouted as he closed the door to his shop.

Elsewhere, Michael Clark donned a beige bathrobe and rain boots as he observed the water flowing down small creeks in his backyard on San Ysidro Road. As light rain poured down on him, he bent his head over a small stream. The sound of the water rushing below him was loud, but Clark didn’t seem concerned.

“The way the water is flowing is nothing like January,” he said.

Clark said he did not evacuate because he wanted to protect his property. “I went to bed at 8 p.m. and got up around 12 a.m. to check on the rain,” he said. “Nobody will take care of my place like I can.”

Santa Barbara County authorities ordered mandatory evacuations Thursday for residents in Montecito and other fire-scarred areas, saying the storm could again trigger dangerous flash floods and mud and debris flows.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office issued the evacuation order, effective at noon, for individuals near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas. The order affects the coastal communities of Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria.

“Due to the size and breadth of the evacuation area, not all residents will be contacted in person,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a statement. He cautioned residents in affected areas not to wait for deputies before deciding to evacuate. “Everyone should begin the evacuation process now,” the statement said.

The evacuation order comes barely two months after a Jan. 9 storm poured more than half an inch of rain on Montecito in just five minutes, triggering burn area mudslides that destroyed homes and killed at least 21 people.

Brown estimated that 25,000 to 30,000 people would be affected by the mandatory evacuation notice.

Montecito resident Laura Bautista and her family decided to leave, hours before the mandatory evacuations were ordered. Suitcases, pillows and clothes were piled in the backseat of her Honda, and next to her sat her 10-year-old son, Jesus Bautista. Her daughter was in a car in front of her.

Patrick Braid passes through a closed road to check on residents who sheltered in place in the early morning hours Friday in Montecito.
Patrick Braid passes through a closed road to check on residents who sheltered in place in the early morning hours Friday in Montecito. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

 

“We feel nervous and stressed,” Bautista said in her car. The family’s home was damaged by mud and debris during January’s mudslide. She said they’ve put sandbags around their house but are concerned what shape their house will be in when they return.

Similarly, Ingrid McCann said she was fearful of a repeat of January’s devastation. She and her husband opted not to evacuate then, and now regret that decision.

“We were traumatized in January. … We are going to get out of here soon,” McCann said as she loaded clothes and other belongings into her car.

Not everyone planned to leave.

Even though Ruth Pedersen lives in a mandatory evacuation zone just a few streets from Romero Canyon Creek, the 93-year-old said she planned to stay at home with her cat.

“I feel comfortable at home, and I don’t think anything will happen,” Pedersen told a reporter Thursday afternoon. “I didn’t evacuate in January, and I was fine.”

As she spoke, her son, John Pedersen, piled sandbags near the front lawn. “It’s a calculated risk,” he said.

Forecasters said the heaviest rainfall is expected before dawn Friday. An inch of rain is possible, they said, with up 3 inches in mountain areas.

The main cold front is expected to move out of the region by Friday, but showers are expected to continue off and on through Saturday.

It’s too early to say whether the storm portends a March miracle capable of pulling California’s snowpack out of the doldrums, said Michael Anderson, the state climatologist with the Department of Water Resources.

The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada had a snow-water equivalent of 24% of average on Thursday, state officials said. Sierra snowpack traditionally makes up one-third of the state’s water supply.

But thanks to the historically wet winter of 2016, the picture isn’t as dire as it could be after the last several months of dry conditions, Anderson said.

“In terms of having a base flow coming out of the Sierra into the larger reservoirs, it still seems to be holding up despite the dry winter,” he said.

A snowboarder takes advantage of power conditions at Mammoth Mountain, which recieved 13 inches of new snow since Thursday afternoon.
A snowboarder takes advantage of power conditions at Mammoth Mountain, which recieved 13 inches of new snow since Thursday afternoon. (Peter Morning / Mammoth Mountain)

 

When the current storm passes, the snowpack could see an increase of 25%, he said.

By mid-morning Thursday, the Boreal Mountain Ski Resort near Donner Lake had received a foot of snow. The Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows Resort near Lake Tahoe had received 7 inches, and Bear Valley between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite had received 4 inches.

The fresh powder was a welcome sight for Kristyn Lucero in Tahoe City, who was cleaning snow off her car by 4:15 a.m. on Thursday.

By typical standards, the snow hitting Tahoe City and much of the Sierra Nevada is par for the course this time of the year. But meteorologists have noted that California’s rain and snowfall have been alarmingly missing for much of the last five months — the bulk of the state’s rain season.

“It’s finally back again; I know a lot of people are excited about it,” said Lucero, who works behind the counter at Tahoe House Bakery & Gourmet. “Cinnamon rolls were popular today, and a lot of warm drinks are going out the door.”

Etehad reported from Montecito, Serna and Branson-Potts from Los Angeles.

hailey.branson@latimes.com | Twitter @haileybranson

Courtesy: L A Times

ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers

ICE steps up enforcement at businesses in California, targeting employers and workers
Homeland Security Investigations, an arm of ICE, is increasingly targeting employers suspected of hiring workers in the country illegally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents put on their navy blue jackets and walked into a trucking company’s office in Carson this week, sending waves of anxiety rippling through the building.

In the lobby, a nervous office manager greeted the team from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, twisting a black pen in her hands like a wet towel. A second manager joined them.

 

“I see people with vests and cameras,” he said with an anxious chuckle. “That’s not good.”

The visit represents a renewed wave in ICE’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration in the Trump era. Federal authorities are stepping up audits of businesses, hoping to catch employers who hired those here illegally. The agency’s acting director wants to increase work-site enforcement 400%, part of a much larger effort to identify and deport those here without proper papers.

During a five-day operation in the Los Angeles area that ended Thursday, more than 120 businesses were issued audit notices.

 

Officials said the purpose of the audits is twofold: to punish employers and employees breaking the rules as well as to discourage people from coming into the U.S. illegally for work, which critics have long said takes away job opportunities from citizens and legal residents.

 

“It’s a deterrent to somebody who is thinking about crossing the border, paying a smuggler and taking that perilous journey,” said Dani Bennett, an ICE spokeswoman. “If there isn’t that pull factor or perceived easy employment on the other side, there isn’t that incentive to cross in the first place.”

 

The aggressive actions are the latest in the continued standoff between the Trump administration, which has vowed to crack down hard on illegal immigration, and California, which in October declared itself a “sanctuary state” for immigrants.

After Gov. Jerry Brown signed the sanctuary state bill into law, ICE’s acting director, Thomas Homan, warned that California “better hold on tight.”

 

But the audits are not new, and according to statistics provided by ICE, they hit their peak in 2013 under President Obama, with more than 3,100 such audits conducted that fiscal year. The Obama administration then shifted focus to deporting those convicted of serious crimes. In fiscal year 2017, ICE said it completed 1,360 audits in the U.S.

Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally.
Homeland Security Investigations agents visit businesses, asking for proof that employees are living and working in the U.S. legally. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

 

The audits can lead to civil fines and even criminal prosecutions if they find employers knowingly violated the law, ICE officials said.

 

For years, federal law did not bar the hiring of people in the country illegally. That changed in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, commonly called IRCA. It granted residency to 3 million people in the country without legal status, bolstered border enforcement and for the first time established penalties for hiring people in the country illegally.

 

But experts said the employer sanctions were watered down to win the support of industry, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and agricultural delegations from the Midwest. IRCA set relatively low fines, and the law said that, to be convicted, employers had to have “knowingly employed” a person who was in the country without documentation.

 

When ICE descended on Bee Sweet Citrus in the town of Fowler as part of broader audits in the Central Valley, the business was told it was being audited for I-9 compliance, and dozens of employees reportedly lost their jobs. The I-9 forms, filled out when employees are first hired, attest to their status to work legally in the country.

 

As rumors spread in January about an ICE sweep across California, a new state law went into effect prohibiting employers from allowing ICE access to private areas of their businesses without a warrant. It also required businesses to notify employees within 72 hours if they have been given notice of an inspection.

 

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra warned businesses that not obeying the state law could result in a $10,000 fine.

 

Betty Jo Toccoli, president of the California Small Business Assn, said operations like recent sweeps of 7-Eleven stores unfairly target one type of business while giving others a pass. One of the group’s members, a tortilla factory, also received notice about an ICE visit, and 15 employees did not show up to work, she said.

 

“Why would you target a tortilla manufacturer? Because you think you’re going to find more people to deport,” Toccoli said.

 

The Times accompanied ICE agents on an audit operation around Los Angeles this week to see the process firsthand. The Times was allowed to ride along with ICE on the condition that the names of the businesses and employees would not be published.

At the Carson trucking company, an ICE auditor explained what was happening. ICE wanted to see the company’s I-9 forms, and the auditor showed company officials what the document looks like.

 

As the minutes ticked by and the managers realized this was not a raid, their moods relaxed. But they expressed ignorance of I-9 forms, and the operations manager said he had never seen any of his employees fill one out.

 

The ICE auditor said the agency wanted the most recent payroll and all employee I-9s in seven days. The law allows them to demand those documents within three days, the auditor explained, but the extra four days were being given as a courtesy.

 

Outside the building, the agents debated how bad a sign it was that the company’s managers had no idea what an I-9 form is. The auditor reasoned that it was not a big deal and that the company’s human resources manager — who was away from the office — probably was acquainted with the forms.

 

On the ride to the next business, Jennifer Reyes, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Los Angeles, talked about how ICE is blamed for people losing their jobs as a result of the audits. She argued that it was the employers’ fault for hiring people in the country illegally in the first place.

 

ICE is trying to strike a balance with these audits, she said. The agency was levying fines on businesses that violate the law that are stiff enough to deprive them of some of the profits gained by hiring people in the country illegally, but not so harsh that the companies are put in danger of having to close.

 

At another trucking company in Compton, the owner invited the ICE squad into his office. The room was decorated in memorabilia, including a signed Kobe Bryant jersey and an Elvis cardboard cutout.

 

This time, the owner, who said he was happy to give them a whole box full of I-9 forms, was well-versed in what the agents were looking for.

“You have seven days,” the ICE auditor said.

 

@adamelmahrek

Courtesy: L A Times

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