September 23, 2015
Santa Barbara News Press
Assures 'hard-working' illegals he is not interested in deporting them
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown assured the public Tuesday he is not interested in deporting "hard-working" illegals.
His remarks came during a Board of Supervisors hearing covering how the Sheriff's Department works with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the arrest, detainment and release of illegals.
The hearing also covered who ICE agents target for deportation and the laws involved in the process.
The hearing may have raised as many questions as it provided answers.
Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino requested the sheriff's report following the rape, torture and murder of 64-year-old Marilyn Pharis. The Santa Maria woman was attacked in her home July 24 and died Aug. 1.
Victor Aureliano Martinez, 29, one of the men accused in the horrific crime, is an illegal who had been arrested six times in less than two years prior to the attack, but was never deported and was repeatedly released back into the public due to what many in law enforcement believe is a broken system.
Sheriff Brown and Santa Maria police Chief Ralph Martin have publicly blamed conflicting state and federal policies.
While Ms. Pharis' death sparked the conversation, Mr. Lavagnino said her family requested her case be left out of the board discussion.
He said the focus should be on removing violent noncitizen felons, including hard-core gang members from local neighborhoods, and to determine whether loopholes exist in the system at the local level and how to close them.
Sheriff Brown said his goal is to provide protection from dangerous criminals, and that he is not interested in seeing hard-working undocumented immigrants face deportation.
He stressed the importance of maintaining and enhancing the community's trust.
David Marin, deputy field office director for ICE, said the agency's Priority Enforcement Program only targets convicted illegals.
The first priority includes threats to national security, border security and public safety. The second involves those who commit misdemeanors or are new immigration violators. The third involves other immigration violations.
Due to a lack of resources, ICE agents are not able to focus on illegals who do not have a criminal history, and even those who commit minor offenses are not targeted, Mr. Marin said.
When a jailed illegal meets all of ICE's criteria, the agency can request an immigration hold, or a notification of release that would allow the individual to be transferred into ICE custody
However, the California TRUST Act prohibits local law enforcement from detaining criminals solely based on the request of ICE, and Sheriff Brown said he can't hold offenders past a release date.
In many cases, he said, all he can do is inform ICE agents when a person will be released from County Jail.
But because of the lack of ICE resources, there are times when an ICE agent can't be present to take the illegal into custody, meaning he or she is free to go back into the community.
"It's an imperfect system and people do slip through the cracks," Sheriff Brown admitted.
He said he is working with the California State Sheriff's Association to improve the process, and believes the issue cannot be fully dealt with until comprehensive immigration reform is accomplished on a national level.
When 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam asked Mr. Marin about how many people may have "fallen through the cracks" of the system, Mr. Marin said he could not even "guesstimate."
Mr. Adam asked whether an ICE detainer had been requested for Mr. Martinez.
"We are going to catch those guys, right?" he asked.
Mr. Marin replied, "Yes."
Dozens of people showed up to weigh in on the issue during public comment.
Some expressed concern that law enforcement and ICE were not doing enough to keep violent illegals off the streets.
Others expressed fears over whether ICE is, in fact, only targeting criminals. Some told the board they are afraid to report crimes, or in some cases, even leave their homes, because they don't want to be deported themselves.
While 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf sided with the sheriff in the belief that non-criminal undocumented workers should not be targeted by law enforcement or ICE, Mr. Adam argued that all illegals, regardless of their nationality, are violating the Constitution.
Several supervisors asked for more transparency, requesting quarterly updates on the number of people detained and ultimately placed into ICE custody and deported, and the reasons why those individuals were targeted.
Mr. Lavagnino said he would follow up with ICE officials and bring the item back to the board in the future.
The board's next regular meeting is set for 9 a.m. Oct. 6 at the county Administration Building in Santa Barbara.