IMMIGRATION: Sheriff John McMahon shifts on TRUST Act

Published on December 17th, 2013

December 16, 2013
By David Olson

In a shift, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon is proposing to formally bar the county from turning over detainees arrested for certain non-violent crimes to federal immigration officials for possible deportation.

The changes to the county’s 287g agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would comply with the TRUST Act, a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law in October that requires local law enforcement agencies to limit immigration holds to people convicted of the most serious crimes, including any that would lead to a state prison sentence. The law goes into effect Jan. 1.

Under 287g, ICE trains sheriff’s employees on how to determine whether inmates may be in the country illegally.

In September, San BernardinoCounty supervisors approved an extension of 287g to 2016. The supervisors are slated to vote Tuesday, Dec. 17, on McMahon’s proposed changes to the agreement.

McMahon had opposed the TRUST Act because of concerns it conflicts with federal law. But Corporal Lolita Harper, the sheriff’s office’s liaison to the Hispanic community, said ICE officials assured him that complying with the TRUST Act wouldn’t harm ICE’s partnership with the county.

“That’s what made the difference,” Harper said. “The sheriff now feels comfortable he doesn’t have to choose between state and federal law.”

ICE declined to comment on the proposed changes. But the agency said in a statement that “the identification and removal of criminal offenders is U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) highest priority,” and that it has enacted reforms “that allow the agency to focus its resources on priority individuals.” Previous ICE statements have said that among the agency’s top priorities are violent criminals.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Office is still reviewing whether to renew its 287g agreement with ICE. In the past, Sheriff Stanley Sniff had expressed the same concerns as McMahon over conflicts with federal law. Sniff was unavailable for comment Monday.

Sniff previously had said he was seeking legal advice on the TRUST Act from the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which had opposed the TRUST Act when it was before the legislature.

The association’s legal counsel still believes the TRUST Act conflicts with federal law, said Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, president of the association.

Attorney General Kamala Harris came to the opposite conclusion, stating in December 2012 that sheriffs are not legally required to honor ICE requests for immigration holds.

Ahern said Monday the sheriffs’ association has asked regional ICE officials for direction on implementation of the TRUST Act, “and they said they haven’t received direction from their superiors” at ICE headquarters.

Ahern said that, with the uncertainty, each county sheriff will have to decide how to implement the TRUST Act.

The move by McMahon, who next year is running for election to his first full term as sheriff, came after pressure from Latino and immigrant community activists, some of whom met with the sheriff in the weeks after the TRUST Act was signed.

Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San BernardinoCommunityServiceCenter, an immigrant-assistance agency, said the change was positive.

But, Amaya said, “They had no choice” because state law supersedes county law.

Amaya said that, if supervisors approve the changes, community leaders would monitor implementation of the new policy to ensure it’s in compliance with the TRUST Act. Amaya said he supports the 287g agreement as long as the TRUST Act language is part of it.

“We have no problem with hardcore criminals being transferred to ICE,” he said.

Joe Guzzardi, national media director of the anti-illegal-immigration Californians for Population Stabilization, argued that some of the crimes covered under the TRUST Act are not minor. For example, the bill bars immigration holds for people convicted of misdemeanor driving under the influence and misdemeanor domestic violence, although it allows them for felonies.

Guzzardi said even people who commit less serious crimes should be turned over to ICE if they are in the country illegally.

“We wish that law-enforcement officers would stick to their principles…and not be selective in saying what laws will be enforced,” Guzzardi said.

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