WatchSonoma Watch

County Sheriff Steve Freitas shifting stance on immigration holds


Six months ago, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas adamantly opposed state legislation intended to limit what he viewed as his obligation under federal law to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials.

Now, though, he has issued an interim policy that ends the practice of automatically keeping everyone in jail who has been the target of a federal immigration hold. He also has called for public input for policy changes.

The turnaround has generated positive reactions among immigration activists. Jesus Guzman, a local immigration advocate who, along with other community leaders, has met with Freitas, said the new policy has the potential to change the way local law enforcement agencies relate to the immigrant community.

He said they could alter the perception among many local immigrants that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and the Sheriff’s Office are “one and the same.”

Specifically, Freitas had opposed a state law known as the Trust Act, which prohibits police agencies from incarcerating people on federal immigration detainers unless they are charged with or convicted of a serious felony or certain misdemeanors. The Trust Act, he said, would force him either to ignore federal regulations or defy the new state law.

But even before the governor signed the bill last October, Freitas began to soften his opposition, which had included a pledge to challenge the law in court.

After the measure became law, Freitas began working with immigration advocates and others to craft a policy that implements the law’s principles. The result was his interim policy and an invitation to the public to help draft final guidelines.

“We really have three choices,” Freitas said this week. “We can honor none of the immigration holds or honor every single one. But the better way is to look at each community and see what works best in that community. That’s going to take a lot of work.”

The new law gives county sheriffs discretion over enforcement of federal detainer requests, allowing them to focus resources on undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes.

In the view of federal authorities, immigration detainers require local jail officials to notify federal agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, that an undocumented immigrant is in custody.

Commonly known as an “ICE hold,” the process often results in some undocumented immigrants who otherwise would be eligible for release being detained until ICE agents are able to pick them up.

According to the interim policy, “inmates who are eligible for release from custody shall not be held, pursuant to an immigration hold, beyond the time they would otherwise be released” unless they are charged with any one of a number of “serious felonies.” These include murder, attempted murder, exploding a destructive device, first- degree robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, mayhem, rape, sodomy by force and other offenses.

The interim policy does not prohibit Sheriff’s Office personnel from assisting ICE in some of the federal agency’s specific investigations and in response to officer-safety issues.

The interim guidelines also seek to make broad policy changes to the way local law enforcement agencies handle undocumented immigrants.

“The immigration status of a person, and the lack of immigration documentation, should have no bearing on the manner in which Sheriff’s Office personnel execute their duties,” the interim policy states.

Guzman and other immigration advocates welcomed Freitas’ invitation for public input into the formation of a permanent policy.

“What’s going to be most helpful for all of us is when the community gets a chance to meet with Sheriff Freitas,” he said.

Immigration attorney Richard Coshnear said several issues should be discussed publicly before a permanent policy is forged. Among those, Coshnear said, is that Sonoma County should consider restricting ICE holds to convicted felons, similar to Alameda County’s new Trust Act policy drafted by Sheriff Greg Ahern.

“Reducing county collaboration to holds only for convicted felons would go a long way to ameliorating these problems, so Ahern’s policy represents a great step forward,” Coshnear said.

Coshnear said that undocumented immigrants who are convicted felons are given more due process rights than are those who have not been convicted of a serious crime but are caught up in the immigration detainer process.

A public forum on the topic is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 at the meeting of the Human Rights Commission, to be held in the public hearing room at the Permit and Resource Management Department, 2550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa.

Freitas said that a permanent policy should be drafted in the next couple of months.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.

9 Responses to “County Sheriff Steve Freitas shifting stance on immigration holds”

  1. Accountable says:

    “Illegal Immigration a $113 Billion a Year Drain on U.S. Taxpayers” http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/illegal-immigration-a-113-billion-a-year-drain-on-us-taxpayers-97879144.html

    Among the key findings of The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on U.S. Taxpayers:

    •The $113 billion in outlays for services and benefits to illegal aliens and their families represents an average cost to native-headed households of $1,117 a year. Because the burdens of illegal immigration are not evenly distributed, the costs are much higher in states with large illegal alien populations.

    •Education for the children of illegal aliens represents the single largest public expenditure at an annual cost of $52 billion. Nearly all of that cost is absorbed by state and local governments.

    •The federal government recoups about one-third of its share of the costs of illegal immigration in the form of taxes collected. States, which bear a much greater share of the costs, recoup a mere 5 percent of their expenditures from taxes paid by illegal aliens.

    •Granting amnesty to illegal aliens, as President Obama and others propose, would not significantly increase tax revenues generated by current illegal aliens. However, over time, amnesty would dramatically increase public costs as newly-legalized aliens become eligible for all means-tested government programs.

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  2. Jim says:

    There is no real reason to be a citizen of the United States any longer. Illegal aliens don’t pay taxes. Instead they claim enough ‘income’ to generate the highest IRS welfare (i.e. Earned Income Tax Credit refund). Don’t bother questioning me on this. I’ve been in the tax business for a decade and see it year after year. A new TIN every year, collect free money from the IRS without paying a freaking dime. I’ve dealt with people who know maybe 10 words of English but know EXACTLY what to say they made in income and how many kids to claim to max out the EITC. It is just another source of welfare that EVERY politician ignores because citizens are blind to this “LOOPHOLE”. The politicians certainly complain about those awful “wealthy” people who don’t pay their fair share but not those who rip off the country.

    Secondly…illegal aliens don’t have to carry auto insurance. The police don’t tow their cars any longer so no risk of driving. You get in a wreck with one of them and YOU better have been paying higher premiums for uninsured motorist coverage or YOU’RE out of luck. Citizens getting ripped again.

    Healthcare…sure, let the citizens pay higher taxes or a “fine” to cover those who want it, and get it, for free.

    Voting…give me a break. Why do you think you don’t have to show ID when you vote? Because illegal aliens vote in every election.

    Here is just another elected official that knows pandering to the illegal aliens will lead to re-election in this state. Just another politician.

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  3. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Maybe Frietas changed his mind because he’s running for reelection. I really hope someone comes forward and runs against him. Someone who is more interested in bringing people together than running a police state.

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  4. The Hammer says:

    Time for a new sheriff. One who enforces the laws of our lands.

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  5. Francis says:

    If you look around, Sonoma County doesn’t have enough illegal aliens. Look at the low welfare rolls, the crime, the gangs and unemployed dishwashers, gardeners and day laborers. All of these groups need more illegals added to their ranks so we can say we are doing our share to help the poor, uneducated and those who don’t really want to become part of this culture and country.

    We need a more understanding sheriff and police force to turn a blind eye to what is really going on in this county. Rising crime and a poorer place to live. Just look around.

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  6. R.B. Fish says:

    Freitas will not get re-elected if he follows through with changing his position. If he wants to get re-elected he should clearly say that non-American citizens who are in country/county without appropriate documents stating the reasons for them being here are considered “illegal aliens” and thus create a burden on American taxpayers and each one a potential threat. It’s my job to protect all Americans because so many Americans died and or became disabled to protect the sovereignty of our country.

    If says that he will be doing his job and will win by a landslide.

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  7. James Bennett says:

    The immigration posture we have adopted is 100% UN Agenda 21.

    Undermining our sovereignty.

    Eroding our economy.

    Deliberately creating lack, shortages and scarcity.

    Diluting, discounting our work force and wages.

    Bringing down our quality of life.

    It’s not the Mexican people’s fault.

    It’s our treasonous ‘representation’.

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  8. Follower says:

    If you want to engage your opponents in a conversation about “Immigration” you can’t begin that conversation with lies, misrepresentations and deceit.

    Jesus Guzman, isn’t a local immigration advocate. He is a local ILLEGAL immigration advocate.

    “I” am a local immigration advocate.

    I advocate for people following our immigration laws and joining us as American Citizens so they can contribute their culture, enterprise, talent and hard work to our society in pursuit of the American dream.

    Now if you want to have a discussion about EXPANDING our immigration to include more people, fine… lets talk about that.

    But don’t insult me by trying to twist the conversation by pretending that all “immigrants” are the same and thus implying that “I” am “anti-immigration”. An implication that is often outright stated!

    I m not anti-immigration. I am not even anti-illegal immigrant!

    The VAST MAJORITY of illegal immigrants would AND DO make great contributions to our society and should have the opportunity to become citizens.

    And we have a system in place for them to do just that.
    If that system is broken, lets fix it! THEN… we can deal with the people who are already here.

    We tried it the other way around already in 1986 and it clearly didn’t work.

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  9. Reality Check says:

    We are becoming a nation that enforces the law when and if it’s political popular.

    I guess reelection is more important to Freitas than the oath he took.

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