Tulsa County’s typically staid commissioners meeting turned into a raucous affair Monday when a University of Tulsa assistant professor of law rose to demand that she be heard and accused commissioners of shunting their responsibilities and acting in bad faith.
Mimi Marton, director of the Tulsa Immigrant Resource Network, did not come alone. Joined by a roomful of other opponents of the county’s participation in a federal immigration enforcement program, she demanded to know why commissioners took public comments on the issue last week without first telling the roomful of speakers that the sheriff had already signed an extension of the agreement.
“It is the public policy of the state of Oklahoma — and this is a quote — ‘That the people are invested with an inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government,’” Marton told commissioners. “When you conceal the fact the contract we objected to was already renewed, that is certainly not consistent” with the state’s policy.
County commissioners on May 13 heard from 18 speakers opposed to the county’s involvement in the 287(g) program. Not once during the meeting were speakers informed that the agreement had been signed by Sheriff Vic Regalado on May 10.
The Sheriff’s Office is one of dozens of local law enforcement agencies participating in the 287(g) program, which uses local law enforcement to identify and process undocumented residents for deportation proceedings.
Commissioner Karen Keith, who arranged for last week’s public hearing, insisted that she had informed one of the speakers in advance that the memorandum of understanding had been signed.
“I made it clear on Friday (May 10) when we were visiting that that was in fact what was going to happen,” she said during Monday’s meeting.
To which Marton responded: “Even if (you) had, all of you remained silent. Eighteen people came up here, some of them making themselves vulnerable, to express a concern.”
Marton and other opponents of the 287(g) program weren’t authorized to speak during Monday’s meeting because the issue was not on the agenda, though one speaker said she had called Keith’s office last week asking to have it added.
“Well, that is on me, and I am sorry,” Keith said.
Her colleagues on the three-member commission, meanwhile, said they didn’t know that the agreement had been signed when public comments were taken last week.
Commissioner Ron Peters said the last time he spoke to the sheriff — a few days before the May 13 meeting — Regalado had not even received the agreement to sign. Commissioner Stan Sallee said he wasn’t notified that the sheriff had signed the agreement.
But Regalado said after Monday’s meeting that he had informed all three commissioners of his intention to sign the memorandum of understanding.
“I think it was that Thursday, not that Friday (before the May 13 meeting), when I called them and said, ‘Hey, I’ve talked to (Assistant District Attorney) Doug Wilson, and he’s advised that we’re good to go as far as me signing it,” Regalado said.
The sheriff said he signed the extension without seeking commissioners’ approval because their approval was not statutorily required and it was just a 12-month extension.
Regalado said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is not entering into new 287(g) agreements and that he was told by the agency that all that was needed for the extension was his signature.
After conferring with the DA’s Office, he signed the agreement.
“He (Wilson) said I had the statutory authority to sign it, and as long as ICE did not require the county commissioners that I was fine to go ahead and move forward with just my signature,” Regalado said.
Wilson said in an email to the Tulsa World that he based his decision on language in Title 19 of Oklahoma statutes, which states in part:
“Each county sheriff may contract with any public or private entity engaged in the business of transportation of prisoners, the Department of Justice of the United States of America, the Department of Corrections, or any municipality of this state for the feeding, care, housing, and upkeep of federal, state, or municipal prisoners, or alien detainees incarcerated in the county jail.”
Regalado said he did not mention that he had signed the agreement last week because he assumed the speakers already knew.
“I know everybody there is looking for a devious reason as to why I signed it,” he said, “but at the end of the day it was because it’s an extension, it was quicker, and it was all that was required was my signature.”
Keith, who opposes the 287(g) program, stayed after Monday’s meeting to talk with Marton and other opponents of the program and encouraged them to keep up the pressure.
Marton and her colleagues plan to continue pressing their case at the commission’s June 3 meeting.
Historically, the Board of County Commissioners, not the sheriff, has signed off on the 287(g) agreements. Under the terms of the MOU, either the county or ICE can end the agreement at any time.