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Sheriff Tells Santa Barbara County Supervisors Immigration Reform Must Come From Feds

Many voices are heard during 3-hour session regarding undocumented inmates released from jail

Carrying signs, several members of the immigrant community showed up Tuesday at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors hearing regarding local law enforcement’s jail policies for undocumented immigrants.
Carrying signs, several members of the immigrant community showed up Tuesday at the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors hearing regarding local law enforcement’s jail policies for undocumented immigrants. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Sheriff Bill Brown told the Board of Supervisors his agency has taken steps to improve how it interacts with federal agents in handing over undocumented immigrants released from the jail, but the bigger resolution lies with the federal government. Click to view larger
Sheriff Bill Brown told the Board of Supervisors his agency has taken steps to improve how it interacts with federal agents in handing over undocumented immigrants released from the jail, but the bigger resolution lies with the federal government. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A frustrated Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Tuesday that his agency has taken steps to improve how it interacts with federal agents in handing over undocumented immigrants released from the jail, but the bigger resolution lies with lawmakers at a higher level.

“It’s an untenable situation, as I mentioned, that is fraught with politics and emotion, and it’s one that will not completely be resolved, in my estimation, until such time as the president and Congress work together to achieve comprehensive immigration reform,” Brown told the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

For nearly three hours, the board heard from its top local law enforcement officer, federal representatives, residents calling for harsher handling of those in the country illegally, and immigrants fearing deportations will separate children from their parents.

The board did not take any action beyond receiving and filing the report after the sometimes-emotional testimony.

Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino called for the hearing in the wake of the brutal attack in July on a Santa Maria woman who died from her injuries. 

One of the men arrested in connection with the death of Marilyn Pharis is an undocumented immigrant with prior arrests, a fact that has led to outrage from the community and frustration from law enforcement. 

Approximately two dozen people spoke at the meeting, some calling for stricter enforcement and others worried about the effects of such a crackdown.

Brown told the board the problems lie with a lack of alignment for federal and state laws.

This has created confusion and uncertainty in the law enforcement community Brown said, adding it also "creates a dangerous situation for those we serve and protect.” 

The California TRUST Act, court decisions that say counties could be financially liable for detaining people on Immigration and Customs Enforcement orders, and Proposition 47 reducing many nonviolent crimes from felonies to misdemeanors have negatively affected efforts to work with ICE, Brown said. 

Members of the California State Sheriffs’ Association nearly all oppose the TRUST Act and Proposition 47, Brown said. 

While ICE sends detainers to the County Jail, Brown said, those are considered simple requests, not mandatory orders due to the lack of a judicial review.

“The attorney general has opined that new federal case law has created legal risk for local jurisdictions that voluntarily comply with an Immigration and Customs Enforcement request to detain an individual,” he said. 

To remove the legal risk, the Sheriffs’ Association has authored a letter to ask President Obama to develop a process whereby a brief probable cause declaration would be reviewed and authorized by a federal magistrate to provide the judicial review required by the TRUST Act and allow county jails to detain inmates for ICE.

David Marin, a deputy field office director with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, talks to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. Click to view larger
David Marin, a deputy field office director with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, talks to the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Brown said his department tries to notify ICE representatives when someone will be released so a federal agent can take the person into custody. But that isn’t always possible because sometimes an inmate posts bail or a judge orders a defendant’s release. 

ICE has an office in the jail, but doesn’t have personnel to remain on site 24 hours a day, the sheriff said. 

Of the jail’s 967 inmates last week, 128 were foreign-born, but the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t know how many of those are undocumented.

David Marin, deputy field office director for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, said the agency focuses its enforcement efforts on those who commit violent crimes, misdemeanor violators who arrived after Jan. 1, 2014, and other immigration violators.

“It’s not just somebody who’s arrested for a crime,” Marin said.

Detainers will be placed once someone has been convicted of a crime, Marin said. 

“We’d rather go after those individuals who have been convicted of a serious misdemeanor, aggravated felony or are known gang members,” Marin said. 

Those taken into ICE custody are processed at the new Santa Maria office but transported after 12 hours to another facility for a hearing or deportation.

But ICE is not conducting big sweeps to return undocumented immigrants without a criminal history to their home countries, Marin said.

And the agency considers as non-priorities those undocumented immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States without any criminal history.

Santa Maria Polic Chief Ralph Martin did not speak at the meeting, but said later that immigration status has no bearing to his officers.

“I have, since being here my first week, steadfastly stated that your ….immigration status has no bearing if you are a victim of a crime, a witness to a crime,” he said.

The sheriff also noted that trust is important to those they serve, especially in the Latino community.

“We are not interested in seeing undocumented field workers or other hardworking people who have no serious criminal history face deportation,” Brown said

Lavagnino asked the ICE representative if the agency could regularly provide data about deportations and the crimes committed to help appease both sides of the debate.

The county supervisor from Santa Maria said he frequently hears from those who say everyone’s being deported and others who contend too few deportations occur.

“I think transparency’s very important in this issue, because when you don’t have a transparent system, you have a lot of misinformation which creates a lot of people with a lot of angst in a room,” Lavagnino said. 

Still the rumors of persist. One speaker claimed ICE conducted a checkpoint recently at Main Street and Depot Avenue, which Marin denied.

First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said everyone should be appalled when a violent crime occurs. 

“What I certainly hope does not happen is that we create this inadvertent or purposeful demagoguery of the immigrant community,” he said. “The vast majority are hard-working, honest individuals trying to make a living and contribute to this country. 

“But we do also need comprehensive immigration reform and really once and for all deal with he complexity of this issue, " Carbajal said, adding that it would allow 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country to come out of the shadows.

Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam also noted the complexity of the issue, but said residents want results regarding the number of illegal immigrants.

"Our citizens are looking for results ... ," Adam said. "They want to make sure their family members and their neighbors are not harmed by people who should not be here in the first place. They don't care about the excuses; they just want to be safe.

"Unfortunately, supervisors can't make that so."

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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