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Law Enforcement Immigration Policies to be in Spotlight at Board of Supervisors Hearing

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will hear how the Sheriff’s Department interacts with a federal agency regarding undocumented immigrants incarcerated in the County Jail.

Sheriff Bill Brown’s presentation is at the request of Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who last month asked for the hearing after an undocumented immigrant with a criminal history was one of two men arrested in a brutal attack on a Santa Maria woman in July.

Marilyn Pharis died eight days later while still in the hospital, prompting an outcry about how local authorities handle undocumented immigrants. One of the suspects, alleged to be the main assailant, Victor Aureliano Martinez, had just been released from jail days before the attack.

The supervisors will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the Joe Centeno Administration Building at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway in Santa Maria.

In a letter to his colleagues, Lavagnino noted that several state and federal laws, in addition to policies, guide how the Sheriff’s Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement handle detaining, releasing and removing convicted citizens of foreign nations.

Inmates booked into the jail are asked their names and countries of citizenship, with ICE staff visiting the facility several times a week to determine the level of priority based on the type of crime.

ICE’s Priority Enforcement Program ranks individuals in three categories that qualify them for removal based on the level of crime. National security and public safety are the top-level priority, misdemeanors and new immigration violators in the second level and other immigration violations ranked third.

Nonpriorities for federal agents are individuals who have been in the United States illegally and continuously since Jan. 1, 2014, but who do not otherwise have a criminal history.

Local law enforcement officers have said their hands are tied by conflicting laws and other circumstances, including a court ruling that jurisdictions may be liable for damages if people are detained beyond their criminal sentence.

Additionally, authorities say they are guided by the California Trust Act, which requires that continued detention under ICE detainers must meet several conditions.

First, the detention must not violate federal, state and local laws or policies. Second, a detainee’s criminal history must include serious or violent crimes, federal charges or inclusion on the California sex offender or arsonist registries.

California’s county jail operators contend they need a federal judge’s signature on detainer forms, but ICE has declined to do so, saying that is a misunderstanding of federal laws.

Brown also is expected to inform the board about already implemented policies that have improved communication and coordination of inmate transfers, in addition to policy changes sought by top law enforcement officers in the state.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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