California prosecutor wants his county to change policy on illegal immigrants

Article author: 
Tracey Kaplan
Article publisher: 
The Bulletin
Article date: 
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Article category: 
National Issues
Article Body: 

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Martin Moreno roughed up his ex-girlfriend like an “animal" until police arrested him at gunpoint, according to a witness. Juan Flores bashed a man in the head with a beer bottle, producing a wound that required 25 stitches. And Francisco Gomez twice punched a 2-year-old with his closed fist — hard enough to trigger a brain hemorrhage.

All three were in this country illegally and could have been deported under federal law if Santa Clara County had been willing to hold them for immigration agents. Instead, they were treated like U.S. citizens and released either on probation or on bail under a county policy that effectively bars all immigration “holds." Since then, they’ve thumbed their noses at the criminal justice system and gone on the lam.

Armed with disturbing examples like these, District Attorney Jeff Rosen is urging the county board of supervisors to rescind one of the nation’s most lenient immigration policies. Rosen contends the year-old county policy unnecessarily endangers the community by allowing illegal immigrants with a history of violent or serious crimes to be released rather than held for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE.

The county’s policy must change, Rosen argues, “to protect public safety, protect taxpayer’s dollars and protect victims’ rights."

Tinkering with immigration policy is a touchy matter in a county where one in four residents was born in a foreign country. Staunch advocates of the county policy, including ambitious local politicians and some defense attorneys, argue that engaging local authorities in immigration enforcement undermines immigrant communities’ trust in the police, making people afraid to report crimes as a witness or even a victim. They also point to abuses of authority by ICE and note that many defendants were brought to the U.S. when they were young children and have deep roots here.

But the prospects for at least tweaking the policy are greater now that its main proponent, Supervisor George Shirakawa, is under heavy fire for charging thousands of dollars of questionable expenses on his taxpayer- funded credit card.

The board of supervisors is expected to vote whether to change the policy early next year, after a group of law enforcement officials, including Rosen, Acting Public Defender Molly O’Neal and Sheriff Laurie Smith, recommends a course of action. Smith supports honoring ICE detention requests for illegal immigrants with a history of violent or serious crimes; O’Neal is open to discussing the issue but has concerns.

The issue exploded last year when Santa Clara County became only the second jurisdiction in the nation after Chicago’s Cook County to release illegal immigrants with a history of committing serious or violent crimes onto the streets.