By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County immigration advocates and Sheriff Steve Freitas have worked cooperatively in the past but now are clashing over legislation before Gov. Jerry Brown.
If signed into law, the measure would prohibit local police agencies from detaining suspected illegal immigrants on federal immigration holds, except in cases where suspects have been charged with a serious or violent felony or convicted of one in the past.
Freitas opposes the measure, saying it would force him to either defy the new state law or ignore federal regulations.
“That is in direct conflict with federal law,” he said. “I will have to pick one law to break if the governor signs it, either state or federal.”
But supporters of the bill, Assembly Bill 1081 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, argue that immigration holds issued by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, are “voluntary requests,” not mandatory requirements.
Jesus Guzman, head of the immigration task force of the North Bay Organizing Project, said Freitas’ position was a “little unexpected.”
The group worked closely with Freitas and other local law enforcement leaders last year to adopt a countywide policy that allows their agencies to accept new Mexican consular identification cards as a valid form of ID.
Like AB1081, the countywide policy is designed to help prevent undocumented immigrants facing minor charges from being identified by immigration officials trolling the county jail.
Once in jail, many illegal immigrants are flagged by ICE’s Secure Communities program. Under the program, each inmate’s fingerprints and other biometric data is checked against federal immigration records, identifying inmates who entered the country illegally.
When it began several years ago, Secure Communities was touted by the federal government as an effective way of going after illegal immigrants who have committed serious or violent crimes.
But local critics, including a number of immigration attorneys, say the program casts a wide net that sometimes ensnares legal immigrants and immigrants jailed for minor charges or who end up with their charges dropped.
When an immigration hold is issued, federal rules state that local law enforcement agents “shall maintain custody of the alien” for up to 48 hours, giving federal authorities the opportunity to take the inmate into custody.
Freitas said the word “shall” clearly defines his obligation. He said the county counsel has agreed with his interpretation of the language.
Guzman said he and other North Bay Organizing Project members would like to meet with Freitas to discuss the matter.
“We want to hear that from him, if that’s where he really stands,” he said.
Earlier this week, Guzman and other immigration advocates traveled to Sacramento to attend a rally at the Capitol in support of Ammiano’s bill, known as the Trust Act, which last Friday cleared the Legislature.
Guzman said the North Bay Organizing Project and local clergy plan a similar rally in front of the Sonoma County Jail at 4 p.m. Sept. 6.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.