In this case, Trump is right: Un­doc­u­mented crim­i­nal should be de­ported

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY THE FRESNO BEE ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Cal­i­for­nia lead­ers passed the sanc­tu­ary-state law two years ago to keep lo­cal law of­fi­cers from be­com­ing de facto ex­ten­sions of fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents.

The bill was a re­ac­tion to Pres­i­dent Trump ramp­ing up ef­forts to de­port un­doc­u­mented peo­ple who, the pres­i­dent said, were over­whelm­ing bor­der states like Cal­i­for­nia with crime and il­le­gal drugs.

Un­der Se­nate Bill 54, lo­cal sher­iffs can­not in most cases co­or­di­nate with Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents when­ever an un­doc­u­mented sus­pect is in a lo­cal jail.

But that pro­hi­bi­tion took on dan­ger­ous sig­nif­i­cance two weeks ago when an un­doc­u­mented man, who had been in Merced County's jail ear­lier this year but got a re­lease, fired shots at sher­iff's deputies try­ing to take him into cus­tody. One deputy sus­tained a shot to his leg, but it was not se­ri­ous. An­other shot was stopped by his bul­let­proof vest.

A man­hunt and chase en­sued, and the sus­pect fired at a CHP of­fi­cer be­fore be­ing cap­tured. Thank­fully no in­no­cent by­s­tander was hurt.

But the case shows a se­ri­ous weak­ness in the law that the Leg­is­la­ture must ad­dress be­fore a mem­ber of the pub­lic gets killed and more law of­fi­cers are put in high-risk sit­u­a­tions un­nec­es­sar­ily.

CRIM­I­NAL BACK­GROUND

The sus­pect, 51-year-old Guadalupe Lopez-Her­rera of Dos Pa­los, was in the Merced County Jail ear­lier this year for bat­tery on a spouse and mak­ing crim­i­nal threats af­ter he threat­ened his wife with a knife.

Sher­iff Vern Warnke said Lopez-Her­rera pleaded no con­test in Jan­uary to the mis­de­meanor charges, and was or­dered to be­gin a year-long pro­gram for bat­ter­ers. A judge gave him early re­lease from jail and he was freed.

His wife also sought a re­strain­ing or­der to keep him from hav­ing con­tact with her and their children. She de­scribed him as “very jeal­ous, con­trol­ling, very angry eas­ily.”

“He has stran­gled me and (threat­ened) to kill me,” she told a judge. She added she was scared her children would be raised “with­out a mother.”

LIM­ITS UN­DER THE LAW

Se­nate Bill 54, the so-called “sanc­tu­ary state” bill, was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2017 and took ef­fect on Jan. 1, 2018.

The mea­sure pro­hibits lo­cal and state law en­force­ment from no­ti­fy­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties of an in­mate's re­lease, or trans­fer an in­mate to fed­eral cus­tody, un­less there is a fed­eral war­rant or the per­son has been con­victed of one of the more than 800 crimes listed in a re­vi­sion of the leg­is­la­tion.

Nor­mally, a mis­de­meanor con­vic­tion means lo­cal sher­iffs can­not in­form Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment that an in­mate was about to be re­leased from cus­tody.

In Lopez-Her­rera's case, Merced County of­fi­cials were able to tell ICE about him, and the fed­eral agency put a de­tainer on him. But a de­tainer is not a war­rant. When the judge or­dered him re­leased, ICE could not re­spond fast enough to pick him up.

Warnke wants the law to be re­vised so that if he thinks an un­doc­u­mented per­son in the jail is too dan­ger­ous to be re­leased, he would have the lat­i­tude to hold that per­son un­til ICE of­fi­cers can ar­rive. Warnke would have done that with Lopez-Her­rera.

David Jen­nings, ICE's North­ern Cal­i­for­nia field of­fice di­rec­tor of en­force­ment and re­moval op­er­a­tions, goes a step fur­ther and wants the law changed so lo­cal deputies can again work with his agents inside jails for safe trans­fers of un­doc­u­mented in­mates. As it is now, ICE agents have to track down those un­doc­u­mented peo­ple where they live and work. As Lopez-Her­rera showed, that can be risky.

MUST NOT HAP­PEN AGAIN

Af­ter Lopez-Her­rera fled Dos Pa­los, he went to Paso Robles, where his es­tranged wife's fam­ily lived. He had said he would kill them.

Merced County deputies went there to stop any vi­o­lence, and once they ar­rived, the man fled back to­ward the Val­ley. That led to a high-speed chase through ru­ral parts of San Luis Obispo and Kings coun­ties, with the man fir­ing on a CHP of­fi­cer. Au­thor­i­ties fi­nally caught him in Ket­tle­man City.

Lopez-Her­rera should never have been al­lowed to live freely once he com­pleted his ear­lier jail term. He should have been de­ported then and there. As it was, for an­other five-plus months his wife had to live un­der the threat of him harm­ing her.

Now that he has re­turned be­hind bars, Cal­i­for­nia tax­pay­ers get to pay for his pros­e­cu­tion. As­sum­ing con­vic­tion, the state will then pay for all the costs as­so­ci­ated with his in­car­cer­a­tion.

This is not what Se­nate Bill 54 was meant to ac­com­plish. Val­ley leg­is­la­tors should draft new leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a waiver that would al­low sher­iffs to work with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties in the spe­cific cases of vi­o­lent un­doc­u­mented in­mates who re­main a threat. The Leg­is­la­ture should respect the pro­fes­sional judg­ment of the sher­iffs in these cases, as their first pri­or­ity is pub­lic safety.

The sys­tem now in place failed in the case of Lopez-Her­rera, and it was only by use of good equip­ment that the Merced County deputy was not killed.

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