Blanca Perez was selling ice cream in the San Fernando Valley last year when police arrested her, seized her cart, tossed her frozen treats and sent her fingerprints to federal immigration authorities.
She pleaded guilty to illegal vending and, just as she was to be released, was told she was to be held for officers of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Now advocates are hailing a controversial bill weaving its way through the California Legislature as a means to prevent suspected illegal immigrants picked up for minor offenses from spending extended time in jail beyond their scheduled release.
The legislation, passed in the state Senate last month and pending in the Assembly, is vehemently opposed by the California State Sheriffs' Association. The association said Assembly Bill 1081, by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is destined to cause friction between local police and U.S. immigration officers.
"We're adamantly, actively and unalterably opposed," said Nick Warner, legislative director for the Sheriffs' Association. "It puts the sheriffs in conflict with federal law and immigration policy."
Supporters of the bill say it would preserve much of the current policy, in which ICE agents are notified before the release of suspected illegal immigrants charged in crimes. The bill wouldn't alter the ability of county jails to keep serious or violent offenders on indefinite immigration holds.
But it would, with some exceptions, force them to set free those suspected of minor offenses by their original release date. Suspects in misdemeanor cases could be released immediately after booking, negating detainer requests from ICE officials who have a policy of asking that deportable individuals be held for 48 hours to give the agency time to respond.
"It specifically takes immigration out of it," said Angela Chan, a senior attorney for the Asian Law Conference who helped draft the bill.
Proponents say the bill would have released Juana Reyes arrested June 28 for refusing to stop selling tamales in front of a Sacramento Walmart store before she spent 13 days on an immigration hold in the Sacramento County jail. Sacramento County is among several jurisdictions in the state that do not allow bail for suspected illegal immigrants if ICE has placed a hold on them for possible deportation.
"I think what we saw with Juana is really something we would see in Phoenix, in the capital of Arizona, not the capital of California," said Jon Rodney, spokesman for the California Immigrant Policy Center.
Ammiano and backers of the bill have hailed the so-called "Trust Act" as a California antidote to a controversial Arizona provision, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, that allows police to check the immigration status of people they stop in the normal course of their duties.
The Ammiano bill was watered down from its original version last year, dropping a provision that would have let local police agencies opt out of requirements to send fingerprint records of suspected illegal immigrants to ICE in cases of minor offenses.
Testifying before a Senate committee in June, Perez said she was "treated like a criminal" when she was fingerprinted as an illegal ice cream vendor and referred to immigration agents.
She said she later was put on home detention, wearing an ankle bracelet for months in an immigration case later put on hold.
Ammiano said in a statement that such cases undercut the "confidence our local law enforcement worked so hard to build" among people afraid to report domestic violence and other crimes in fear they may be deported.
Warner said the state Sheriffs' Association supports legislation that protects local police departments from being "the immigration police." But he said Ammiano's bill puts California authorities in "an untenable position" of ignoring arrestee hold requests from ICE agents.
ICE officials declined to comment on the legislation, but released a fact sheet, declaring: "ICE places detainers on aliens arrested on criminal charges to ensure that dangerous criminals are not released from prisons/jails and into our communities."
The fact sheet added: "Even though some aliens may be arrested on minor criminal charges, they may have more serious criminal backgrounds which disguise their true danger to society."
Recently, ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said detention requests for suspected illegal immigrants are "not an instruction to retain custody indefinitely." She said ICE wants 48 hours' notice before an arrestee's release to determine how to respond.