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Sonoma County sheriff won't fight proposed state law on immigration cooperation

  • Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas (PD FILE, 2011)

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, a strong opponent of a state bill that would limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, said this week that he would not oppose the new law if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it.

In a statement to a Latino community advisory group, Freitas said he would comply with the TRUST Act if it becomes law, even though he does not support it.

The TRUST Act, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would prohibit local police agencies from holding individuals on federal immigration detainers, or holds, unless they are charged or convicted of a serious felony or certain misdemeanors.

Such holds are a crucial tool used by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to apprehend and deport undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes, the primary goal of ICE's jail-based enforcement policy known as Secure Communities.

But immigration advocates have for years argued that Secure Communities casts a wide net that sometimes ensnares U.S. citizens, legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants jailed for minor offenses or charges that later are dropped. The immigration hold — which can last up to 48 hours beyond the time when an individual otherwise would be released from jail — gives ICE agents enough time to take custody of immigrants who are suspected of being in the country illegally.

Immigration attorneys and advocates have called on local law enforcement to deny immigration holds in cases where no serious crime is involved. A number of legal experts, including California Attorney General Kamala Harris, have said that immigration holds are requests and that local law enforcement can use discretion in some cases.

But Freitas has stated that immigration holds are mandatory. Not enforcing them would be a violation of federal law, he said.

Jesus Guzman, chairman of the North Bay Organizing Project's immigration task force, said Freitas told him and other immigration advocates last year — when a previous version of the TRUST Act reached the governor's desk — that he would be “seeking relief from the courts” if the bill was signed by the governor. Brown vetoed the measure.

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