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Immigration advocates want fewer deportations from local jails

Concerned that opponents will block or gut a federal immigration bill in the Congress, Sonoma County immigration advocates are now marshaling efforts to pass a bill in Sacramento that would reduce deportations of people held in local jails.

They are lobbying local officials to support the TRUST Act, which would prohibit local police agencies from holding individuals on federal immigration detainers unless they are charged or convicted of a serious felony or certain misdemeanors.

However, advocates say a big obstacle is Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, who opposes the legislation because he said it would force him to defy federal regulations.

The immigration holds are a key tool used in implementing the federal government's controversial Secure Communities program, which critics say casts a wide net that sometimes ensnares U.S. citizens, legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants jailed for minor offenses or charges that are later dropped.

Freitas was out of town on vacation this week and could not be reached for comment. Assistant Sonoma County Sheriff Lorenzo Dueñas said the sheriff has not changed his position since last summer and still opposes the state legislation.

Under Secure Communities, fingerprints and other biometric data of every person booked into county jails are checked against federal law enforcement databases and those of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Federal immigration officials are alerted in cases where an individual has a possible immigration violation.

In such cases, ICE agents seek a federal detainer, or immigration hold, of up to 48 hours beyond the time when a individual would be otherwise released from jail.

The TRUST Act, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would limit immigration holds to serious offenders. An immigrant arrested on suspicion of a “straight misdemeanor” or a prior federal deportation order would not be subject to an immigration hold.

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