IMMIGRATION: Supreme Court decision won't change local policing, officials say

12 hours ago By EDWARD SIFUENTES

The Supreme Court's decision on Arizona's strict immigration law, SB 1070, has not had much of an effect on local police practices, immigrant rights advocates and local law enforcement official say.

The 5-3 decision handed down June 25 by the Supreme Court struck down three of the Arizona law's major provisions, such as making it a state crime to be in the country illegally. The fourth provision, requiring Arizona police officers to ask people's immigration status if they suspect they are here illegally, was left standing until further review by state courts.

But a bill passed Thursday by the state Senate could make it harder for police to cooperate with immigration agencies if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it.

Immigrant rights advocates cheered the court's decision striking down most of the law. But they also warned local law enforcement agencies not to follow the path of the Arizona law by asking for immigration documents, or risk being sued.

While individual policies vary, most police agencies in San Diego County, including the Sheriff's Department (which covers much of North County), prohibits officers from stopping people just to ask for their immigration status.

Sheriff Bill Gore was unavailable for comment last week. However, the department issued a statement saying that enforcing immigration laws is not its main concern.

"The primary responsibility of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department is to guarantee the safety and well-being of all people living within San Diego County," sheriff's Commander Tim Curran said in a statement. "The primary focus of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department does not involve immigration issues unless a person's immigration status comes to our attention during the course of an otherwise authorized, lawful detention."

Gore said in a recent interview with the North County Times that the department is reviewing its policy on immigration.

Jeff Schwilk, founder of the SoCal Patriots Coalition, an anti-illegal immigration organization, said police can and do cooperate with federal immigration agencies to arrest illegal immigrants who have committed crimes. The Supreme Court decision reaffirmed those cooperative efforts, he said.

"We expect our local law enforcement to help enforce all federal laws in the course of their daily law enforcement duties," Schwilk said.

Chula Vista Police Chief David Bejarano said using police as immigration agents is a bad policy because it creates distrust between officers and the community they are supposed to serve and protect.

"We don't want to see an Arizona-type law in California," Bejarano said.

In Escondido, the Police Department has a partnership with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and deport criminal illegal immigrants.

Escondido police Chief Jim Maher said that his officers are not allowed to ask people's immigration status. Maher said Thursday that policy will not change as a result of the Supreme Court's decision. He said the decision will not affect any of his department's policies.

The chief has said in previous interviews that his officers do not ask for the immigration status of witnesses or victims of crimes.

Officers can determine a suspect's immigration status if he or she admits to being in the country illegally; if the officer recognizes the person as an illegal immigrant from a previous encounter; or through criminal background check, Maher has told the North County Times.

Consuelo Martinez, who heads the Escondido Human Rights Committee, said she does not believe the Escondido Police Department will begin asking for everyone's immigration status as a result of the Supreme Court's decision.

"I'm giving our police department the benefit of the doubt," Martinez said. "The chief has expressed that he is not interested in checking everyone's immigration papers. I'm hoping that has not changed."

Other immigrant rights advocates say they have not seen a push from local police in California to adopt Arizona-style policies.

"Quite the opposite," said B. Loewe, a spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, an immigrant rights organization in Los Angeles.

Loewe said the state may soon put further restrictions on local police cooperation with federal immigration agencies, such as Assembly Bill 1081, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

The bill, which passed in the Assembly earlier this year and passed Thursday in the Senate, would prohibit law enforcement agencies from holding an illegal immigrant for federal immigration authorities unless the suspect has a previous felony conviction.

IMMIGRATION: Supreme Court decision won't change local policing, officials say