Santa Paula Times

Immigration issue a wild ride for law enforcement, ICE, public

February 24, 2017
Santa Paula News

The immigration issue has led many on a wild ride since rumors swirled of massive raids by federal agents amid executive orders coming from Washington causing great unrest. Fuel was added to the fire by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforcement action that the federal agency said is a regular operation targeting lawbreakers.

Ventura County law enforcement agencies issued a rare joint statement February 9 regarding their stance on immigration enforcement.

The letter was sent by the Ventura County Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (VCLECC) in response to inquiries about local police involvement in immigration enforcement after President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on the matter.

The committee, chaired by Oxnard Police Chief Scott Whitney, includes Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten, Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean, Santa Paula Police Chief Steve McLean, Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, interim Port Hueneme Police Chief Robert Albertson, interim Simi Valley Police Chief David Livingstone and Capt. Terry Roberts, the California Highway Patrol’s Ventura-area commander.

The VCLECC discuss best practices and training among the local agencies and rarely comments on issues.

Nevertheless, law enforcement leaders felt compelled to comment after the executive order signed by President Trump last month that calls for construction of a wall on the Mexican border, new detention facilities and the hiring of thousands of Border Patrol agents and immigration officers. It also states that the Secretary of Homeland Security will begin working with governors and local officials on agreements that would allow qualified local and state law enforcement officers to perform the functions of immigration officers, the latter a duty local law enforcement throughout the nation is bucking.

According to the VCLECC, “With the President’s recent immigration orders, local law enforcement leaders have received numerous inquiries about their role in enforcing immigration laws. As law enforcement leaders within Ventura County, we felt it was important to re-emphasize our longstanding practices in this area. To be very clear, Ventura County law enforcement has not historically participated in the direct enforcement of immigration laws. We do not intend to change that practice. A safe community needs an effective police department. In order to be an effective police department we need the trust and cooperation between residents and the officers sworn to protect them. We do not want the fear of immigration status to inhibit the members of our communities from interacting with their police officers, particularly when they are victims or witnesses in criminal cases. However, we do believe that those who commit crimes that result in their incarceration in county jail and are in our country illegally should be referred to federal authorities for review of their immigration status. This procedure has been in place for years.”

The letter notes that between September 2015 and September 2016, over 27,000 people were booked into Ventura County Jail from various law enforcement agencies. 

“Of that number,” notes the letter, “only 238 (less than 1%) were removed by immigration officials. Their charges ranged from homicide, rape, possession of weapons, to driving while under the influence. Once again, we want to reassure our communities that we intend to continue our practice of NOT participating directly in field level immigration enforcement. We deeply appreciate and value the trust and confidence Ventura County law enforcement shares with our communities and look forward to your continued support.”

The letter was followed by reports that an ICE enforcement effort had targeted various cities in Southern California, including Santa Paula.

McLean said he also heard the rumors and questioned ICE, which denied it had been in Santa Paula on immigration issues. It is protocol for state and federal agencies to communicate when they will be conducting business in a jurisdiction.

An ICE officer was spotted and photographed in Fillmore at a popular restaurant but apparently the stop was for lunch rather than for an arrest.

In fact, ICE had a phone press conference and issued a statement noting that the action that had been taken had targeted only lawbreakers and was not focused on illegal immigration except for those wanted for criminal conduct. 

Julia Brownley acknowledged the reports of enforcement on February 10, releasing a statement noting, “There have been recent reports about U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Santa Paula and Oxnard. I have demanded a full briefing by ICE officials and will be working with local immigration advocates to determine the facts. Instilling fear and panic, tearing families apart, denigrating immigrants, and building walls that will accomplish nothing, should not be confused for sound immigration policy that upholds the law while staying true to our values as a nation. I will continue to monitor this situation very closely.”

ICE released a statement noting, “A total of 161 foreign nationals were taken into custody in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas,” during the enforcement operation, “targeting at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives.”

Of those arrested, ICE stated 151 had prior criminal convictions, or 94 percent and included “A previously deported aggravated felon from Honduras with prior convictions for drug trafficking, spousal battery, and petty theft. Records show he was recently released by local authorities despite an ICE detainer.”

Also arrested was “A Mexican national with a final order of removal with prior convictions for drug trafficking, a weapons violation, and spousal battery,” and, “An Australian national with a conviction for lewd and lascivious acts with a child.”

The enforcement period in Los Angeles and surrounding areas occurred from Monday February 5 through Friday, February 10.