Sheriff Prieto Seeks To Get Out of Federal Immigration Program

iceA few months ago a woman accused of drug dealing was acquitted of those charges, but still faced an immigration hold.  Her husband had tragically put out an assassination hit on her back in Mexico.  The sad part is, given the minor charges against her, the Sheriff’s office did not have to report the woman to immigration.

Some will argue that everyone who is here illegally ought to be deported, but considering the resources it takes to verify immigration status and transfer from custody to deportation proceedings, that is simply not practical.

Things may be changing as the Secure Communities program comes under fire from the very law enforcement officials who are asked to carry it out.

On Wednesday, a national news conference was held by law enforcement officials, including Yolo County Sheriff Ed Prieto, in which they laid out their concerns about the federal program.

The idea behind Secure Communities was for local law enforcement to have the ability to share the fingerprints of those arrest with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  It was touted as a way to help identify and deport illegal immigrants convicted of serious crimes. 

Instead, it is now coming under fire because it has been use to deport those arrested but not convicted of a crime, or convicted of minor crimes or even traffic violations.

According the news conference on Wednesday, only 12,000 of the 38,828 people in California deported through the Secure Communities program between May 2009 and March 2011 were charged with or convicted of major violent offense.  However, another 11,000 were classified as non-criminal deportees.

A bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano would require that that only fingerprints of convicted felons be run through the immigration database. The bill also contains protections for domestic-violence victims and juveniles and would make the enforcement program optional for counties.

According to a newsstory in the LA Times, “On Wednesday Sheriff Ed Prieto of Yolo County; Sheriff Patrick Perez of Kane County, Ill.; Arturo Venegas Jr., the retired police chief of Sacramento; and immigration rights activists held a news conference to express their opposition to the program. Illinois recently terminated its participation agreement, though it remains unclear whether federal officials will honor the action.”

Sheriff Prieto said he was unaware for a long time that the program was even in place.  According to the LA Times article, he said yesterday that he is now looking for ways to get out of it.

According to another report, Sheriff Prieto “acknowledged that many people, including some in his own command staff, have no objections to deporting anyone who is discovered to be in the country illegally. But he is instructing his department to notify ICE only of prisoners in the country illegally who are known to have committed serious offenses.”
Different local entities are looking to deal with this in different ways.  For instance, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca is a strong proponent of the federal program.  He told the LA Times, “The program enables law enforcement agencies to identify criminals who are here illegally and allows the federal government to target those who have committed serious crimes for deportation so they no longer pose a threat to our communities.”

Others like San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessey have crafted policies that deny immigration holds for those arrested on infractions or low-level misdemeanors.

The Times reports, “ICE detainer requests —- which ask that suspects be held for 48 hours so immigration authorities can fetch them — will still be honored for more serious misdemeanor suspects and for those who have committed a prior felony, two prior misdemeanors or a domestic violence offense, or violated a domestic violence protective order.”

Moreover, they add, “Those arrested on minor offenses without such priors will be cited and released. Arrestees whose charges are later dropped will also be released, rather than turned over to ICE, the policy states.”

This morning the Sacramento Bee editorial argues that it is time to redo the Secure Communities Pact.

They write, “You can’t argue with the goal – to round up and deport dangerous criminals who are in the country illegally.”

“Unfortunately, the federal government’s Secure Communities program is missing the mark,” they continue.  “Until that changes, it won’t win the broad support it needs to succeed from local officials and the public.”

One problem is racial-profiling and abuse of police authority.

Writs the Bee, “Critics say the program is unfairly targeting those merely accused, not convicted, of crimes; is netting too many low-level offenders; is too often leading to racial profiling; and is disrupting community policing because witnesses won’t come forward for fear they’ll be deported.”

There is good evidence to support the claim that the program leads to racial-profiling, such as what happened in Sonoma County where the Sheriff’s Department simply rounded up large numbers of people of Hispanic origin, many of whom were not accused of crimes at all, and held them for immigration checks. 

ICE ruled that policy inappropriate and, ostensibly, they have had to cease it.

However, as the Bee points out, the problem is widespread.  “In California, nearly 1.8 million sets of fingerprints were checked from when the program started here in May 2009 through the end of March; 172,000 were matched to illegal immigrants. Of those, nearly 39,000 were deported – by far the most of any state – including nearly 12,000 who had been convicted of violent crimes or major drug offenses.”

But to look at that another way, less than ten percent of those checked were in fact here illegally, only a quarter of them were deported, and only a third of those had any type of conviction for violent crime.  Less than one percent of those subjected to the search ended up deported for committing the type of offenses that the law was developed to deal with.

Writes the Bee, “Those numbers are troubling. They do not appear to live up to the promise that federal officials made to California that the program’s goal was to remove those who pose the greatest danger to public safety.”

The Bee suggests that Attorney General Kamala Harris should work with the federal government to make the policy more workable.  As they point out, “While immigration policy  and enforcement is a federal responsibility, it has to be done in partnership with the states. California has every right to renegotiate its Secure Communities pact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus more tightly on violent criminals.”

The Bee, however, disagrees with the Ammiano Bill arguing that while its “intent is laudable, that’s the wrong approach.”

Congressional Representative Zoe Lofgren also has serious concerns about the program.  The Bee writes, “She says local jurisdictions should be able to opt out, as her home Santa Clara County is seeking to do, when they don’t want to be immigration cops or when they decide the program is doing more harm than good. But very few would leave the program if it focused on getting violent criminals off the streets, she says.”

For their part, an ICE spokesperson agrees that many of the problems with the program are due to a lack of communication by ICE.  John Mortion told the Bee editorial board this week that “the agency is improving its ability to spot local jurisdictions where racial profiling might be happening and needs to be stopped.”

But that only solves one problem.  The other is figuring out a policy whereby dangerous felons can be removed from the country, but those who are accused of minor crimes or acquitted altogether are left alone.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Frankly

    Comment, comments… where for art thou comments?

    I see zero comments now… there were several last I checked.

    Is the blog malfunctioning… or just my session?

  2. Don Shor

    There haven’t been any comments on this thread today. Similar topic is here: [url][/url]

  3. Tecnichick

    Im with you on this one David. If someone is here illegally and they are not causing major problems then leave them alone. I used to have a different opinion before I seen it with my own two eyes what its like to live poorly in Mexico. The condition is so bad, it’s inhabitable. I visited a very poor city in Mexico a couple years ago. It was more like a camp. The people lived in mud houses with hefty garbage bag windows and a ripple tin roof. There was garbage everywhere and one seriously malnourished dog. The children were begging for money and it was really sad. The people are starving. The minimum wage in Mexico is .99 an hour. They do not have Social security, food stamps, or welfare. Of course they have a will to live and want a better life. They have to leave those conditions and go somewhere to get a second chance. Here in the united states we have many opportunities but the biggest opportunity that we have is education. I can go on and on but I will stop right here. Just know that those people are leaving their own country for a reason- so the next generation can survive.

  4. Frankly

    Tecnichick: You are true bleeding heart (and I don’t mean that in any derogatory way). It is refreshing to see this sentiment put out there.

    Have you considered that Mexico has an economy large enough to take better care of its people, and that the Mexican government, by allowing their poorest and least educated to flee to the US, relieves the pressure to do anything about it?

    Isn’t it sad that so many people in Mexico cannot dream about a better life in their country and instead have to dream about a better life in a foreign country?

    Isn’t it also sad that pursing these dreams requires they risk their lives to cross the border?

    My family had a second home in Buena Vista, Baja Mexico for about 25 years. We got to know the locals very well. Compared to the US, there were just as many good people and bad people in my estimation… however; the one key difference was the level of education. Many were illiterate or had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. Not only this, but many just didn’t have education in their radar… and the majority – especially the men – didn’t think their kids needed it either. However, the most positive aspect of the culture was always the drive for self sufficiency to make enough money to survive and thrive. It has been five years since my family sold the place after my mom was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; however, the other gringos we know still living down there say things have not changed much except for cost inflation.

    Mexico is not like central Africa or other non-industrialized countries. It has natural resources, agriculture and industry. The world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, is a Mexican national and has most of his business holdings in Mexico. There are a number of social and cultural problems in Mexico, but the root of all of these (the reason they are not solved) is government corruption.

    Note that the amount of money sent home from Mexican immigrants to the US surpassed Mexico’s largest industry: their oil industry.

    What most Mexican people want is to have the opportunity to have a good life in their own country. They want to feel some economic parity with their neighbors to the north. Their salvation will require a revolution at some point. I think our porous southern border, our ineffective immigration enforcement and our huge appetite for illegal drugs… combined with our tendency to think we can save every poor person in the world… is preventing Mexico from having their revolution.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    I look it opposite to you Jeff, we don’t have the resources to deport every person here illegally, particularly through ICE holds, so we ought to deport the ones who are dangerous and not worry about the others.

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