Immigration officials welcome sheriff's plan to have ICE officers in Kern Co. Jail

By Carol Ferguson, Eyewitness News Published: Jul 23, 2015 at 7:07 PM PDT

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- Federal immigration enforcement officials say they like the plan by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood to let their officers work inside the local jail.

Youngblood says the proposal would let him do his job better, and let Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials better decide if inmates should be deported after they are released from county custody.

"We're looking at a way to make the community more secure," Sheriff Youngblood said Thursday morning. He's announced the plan would allow ICE to have office space inside the Lerdo Jail, and allow those officers access to information about inmates being held there. When the inmates have served their sentence, Youngblood says the ICE officials would then take custody, if they want to pursue deportation.

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Deputy Field Office Director Erik Bonnar says the agency "welcomes" the sheriff's initiative.

"Under this collaborative effort, convicted criminal aliens who pose a potential public safety threat will be remanded to ICE custody upon completion of their jail terms, rather than being released to the street," he states in an email to Eyewitness News.

Youngblood says ICE will deport undocumented immigrants based on the new federal "Priority Enforcement Program."

"ICE will only deport people that have been convicted of certain felonies and up to three misdemeanors," Youngblood said. "And quite frankly, who in our community would want someone that's in our community illegally -- that's convicted of a felony or of three misdemeanors -- to stay in our community? I'm sorry, I just don't know who would want that."

But, Faith in Action Community Organizer Lorena Lara worries inmates with lesser criminal records will also get deported.

"A lot of folks are mothers, fathers, young people -- that maybe their crime is driving without a license -- something very minor that to a U.S. citizen would just be, 'here's a fine, go to court,'" she said. Lara worries some will be deported for "re-entry" back into the U.S.

"Crimes for undocumented immigrants is far different that it is for a citizen," she said. She worries the plan would give ICE officials more access to information, which would lead to more problems for the immigrant community.

Immigration attorney Win Eaton also worries about which immigrants will be deported.

"We need to keep families together," he told Eyewitness News. "I'm just really concerned, if the sheriff begins to invite ICE, then there will be a lot of very minor offenders who are absolutely protected under the Trust Act who could be caught up in the net."

The Trust Act was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, and went into effect this January. It prevents local law enforcement from detaining non-citizens for an immigration hold any longer than their sentence for a local conviction.

Sheriff Youngblood said the plan is still being worked out, and county lawyers are now looking it over. He hopes it can be in place "sooner rather than later."

The sheriff says it's the job of ICE to decide who should be deported, and his plan will take him out that process.

"I just think this is the proper way to take the sheriff out of the middle," Youngblood said. "Let the federal government do their job, and the sheriff do his job."