California's new attorney general hears concerns in Bakersfield visit
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) —
California's new top law enforcement official was in Kern County to hear local concerns, especially about recent action and policies by the Trump Administration.
Xavier Becerra said he met with local law enforcement, farmworkers, farmworker groups and local businesses.
"I know there's a lot of concern with the federal government action," Becerra said Tuesday morning. "Especially with these executive orders. Many of the people in these communities are fearful of the way the federal government is talking about enforcing the law."
Becerra said when he was named as the new attorney general, he promised the Central Valley would be the first place he visited. He said it grows the nation's food, and it's vital.
"To me, the valley of California -- whether it's Fresno, Kern, going up to Merced -- we keep a lot of people alive. And so it's important to be here." Becerra said.
On Sunday, Becerra had joined 16 other Democratic attorneys general reacting to the recent executive order by President Donald Trump, calling for "extreme vetting" of travelers and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries. On Tuesday, Becerra again called that action "unconstitutional and un-American."
He's also worried about other possible action, and impacts in the Valley.
"Safety and security of the people of this state is my foremost concern," Becerra said. "Sometimes that security is jeopardized in many different ways. Right now, the federal government is talking about doing things that I believe imperils the security that we've felt for a long time."
Becerra said he worries new policies will result in intrusion by federal officials in the lives and businesses of Californians.
The new attorney general said he met with local police chiefs and Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, hoping to develop partnerships with law enforcement. He said the state Department of Justice can be an important resource to local law enforcement, and help make communities safer.
Asked about the actions of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who now have offices in the Kern County jail, Becerra said he hopes to work with Youngblood to find a "sweet spot" between the federal enforcement and state law.
"I'll make sure I do everything possible as the attorney general of this state to make sure that the laws of this state are enforced," he said.
Local immigration attorney Win Eaton said he was impressed with his meeting with Becerra, and he voiced concerns about what's ahead with federal action under the Trump Administration.
"I think ICE is going to have plenty of law enforcement agents here in the streets doing traffic stops and other things," Eaton predicted. "So, we're going to be watching very closely to make sure that the federal officers are complying with the law, as well."
Eaton said he also told Becerra about recent complaints he's hearing of racial profiling.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice told Eyewitness News by phone that officers in that federal department only take action on specific cases, with specific information. "We don't do random enforcement actions," she said.
Kice said ICE focuses on people who pose a "threat to national security, border security, and public safety."
She also said any specific examples of alleged racial profiling should be sent to ICE, and they'll follow up to determine the basis for a particular arrest.
United Farm Workers Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres said she also met with Becerra, and brought up the concerns her organization is hearing.
"We want to ensure that he understands that we have reason to believe in many instances that ICE has been doing traffic stops," Torres said. "There's a lot of fear in the community."
From ICE, Kice told Eyewitness News several people had been stopped recently in a vehicle. But, that was a specific case the officers were working on. She said in the late-January incident, the three people identified had been previously removed from the U.S. and returned illegally.
But, Becerra said he worries about federal actions and said he'll work with other agencies in the state to respond to Trump policies that negatively affect California.
"And, I'll work with my colleagues throughout the country who are interested in standing up to some over-reach by the Trump Administration," Becerra said. "And, I'm prepared to work with the Trump Administration where they're trying to do some things that I think are important and good for the State of California."