Spotlight is on local police as feds outline tougher deportation rules

Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Olmos walks last summer near the secondary fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, background, and San Diego in San Diego. A Homeland Security document says the department has identified three spots – including land near El Centro in Imperial County – where it will construct a wall to replace a border fence.
Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Olmos walks last summer near the secondary fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, background, and San Diego in San Diego. A Homeland Security document says the department has identified three spots – including land near El Centro in Imperial County – where it will construct a wall to replace a border fence. Associated Press file

The Trump administration said Tuesday it will enlist local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to help catch undocumented immigrants as it broadens the categories of people the federal government will seek to deport.

A series of memos signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly escalate the policies of the previous administration, which had focused its deportation efforts on undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Kelly’s order directs immigration agents to deport anyone in the country illegally and says the agency “no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” The department also announced it will build new detention centers to hold undocumented immigrants.

The tougher policies have spread fear among the Sacramento region’s undocumented immigrants, said Irvis Orozco, an undocumented political organizer and UC Davis graduate whose mother brought him from Mexico when he was 6. California is home to an estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants, including 57,000 in Sacramento County, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

“We don’t know who Trump’s going to target,” Orozco said. “It’s scary and crazy – we don’t know what the sheriff’s going to do.”

Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said he saw the memos as “a series of threats.” The ACLU is prepared to sue, he said, if the government expedites removals or reinstitutes policies letting immigration authorities hold detainees in custody beyond 48 hours without charges.

The instructions are “a clear indication on a policy level … to disregard the Constitution, disregard legal constraints, to charge forward with this broad, indiscriminate enforcement no matter what the practical, human or constitutional toll is,” Jadwat said. “There are numerous lawsuits that I would expect to result if they follow through on these threats.”

As the new orders are implemented in the weeks ahead, much of the focus locally will be on Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, a vocal Trump supporter. Jones’ department operates the county’s jails and is the largest law enforcement agency in the Sacramento region.

Jones said in a statement to the media that his department does not inquire into the immigration status of people his deputies come into contact with, either on patrol or in the jails. However, he said the county does allow agents with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, “inside our facilities to access our data and inmate population so they can carry out their mission, and cooperate with them the same as any other law enforcement partner. ICE agents are regularly inside our facilities for this purpose.”

“I have no intention of modifying my policies … as long as I am the Sheriff,” Jones said in a separate Jan. 30 written statement to The Sacramento Bee. “If changes in federal law require any of the policies to change, I will do so publicly.”

Jones was out of the country Tuesday and not available for comment, according to a department spokesman.

Earlier this month, Jones met with top officials in the Trump administration in Washington, D.C., and posted a photograph of himself with Thomas Homan, the acting director of ICE, on his Facebook page. Jones wrote he had met with Homan “to learn about how to maximize public safety in Sacramento County while continuing to protect the law-abiding.”

Kelly’s memo calls for the expansion of the federal 287(g) program, “a highly successful force multiplier that allows a qualified state or local law enforcement officer to be designated as an ‘immigration officer’ for purposes of enforcing federal immigration law.” The program will be expanded to law enforcement agencies that ask to participate, according to Kelly’s memo.

James Schwab, a spokesman for ICE, said he could not provide details on whether the agency had been in contact with local law enforcement agencies, including the Sacramento County sheriff. “We’re reviewing all the programs right now,” he said.

Sacramento County Supervisor Phil Serna said he is concerned Jones will direct his deputies to enforce immigration law, based on the sheriff’s past support for the president. “I’m putting two and two together,” Serna said.

If Jones does enlist his department in the 287(g) program, Serna said he will seek to block Jones’ budget. While Jones is elected to office, his budget is approved by the Board of Supervisors.

“How can I in good conscience support a budget that comes to me that would have our deputies become de facto ICE agents?” Serna said. “How much time and energy would (enforcing immigration law) take away from our deputies keeping our neighborhoods free of crime?”

The Sacramento Police Department has said it does not intend to partner with federal immigration authorities.

“Even though there has been an executive order signed by the president, it does not change anything we do at the Sacramento Police Department,” said department spokesman Sgt. Bryce Heinlein. “We are not concerned with a person’s legal residency status.”

Kelly’s orders essentially outline how the feds plan to implement an executive order signed last month focusing on immigration from Mexico and other Latin American nations.

In addition to the local agency provision, the Trump administration also plans to hire 10,000 immigration agents to help ramp up deportations, although it’s unclear where it will get the money to fund those additions. On top of that, a Homeland Security document said the department had identified three spots – including land near El Centro, in Imperial County – where it will construct a wall to replace a border fence. Undocumented immigrants who “have committed acts which constitute a chargeable criminal offense” – but have not been convicted – and those who “have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits” will be prioritized for deportation, according to Kelly’s memo.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters in Washington “the No. 1 priority is making sure that people who pose a threat to this country are immediately dealt with.”

“This is not a small group of people,” he said.

The Migration Policy Institute estimated in 2015 that 820,000 people – out of about 11 million people in the country illegally – have been convicted of some sort of criminal offense.

While the directives remove any protected class of immigrants, Department of Homeland Security officials emphasized to reporters Tuesday that young people who were brought into the country illegally as children would keep their protections under former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Such people qualified for the program can’t be deported for two years and are given permission to work.

Among the changes likely to draw a legal challenge are the expansion of who can be immediately deported rather than spend months awaiting hearings, as well as a provision that would require immigrants entitled to a court hearing to wait in Mexico or Canada.

Currently, immediate removal can be applied only to people who have been caught within 100 miles of the border and who have been in the United States 14 days or less. The new regulations, however, would allow immigration agents to quickly remove people caught anywhere in the United States who have been in the country for two years or less.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis. McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Franco Ordoñez contributed to this report.

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