Sheriff to continue immigration holds despite new law

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) Under the new state law known as the Trust Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, undocumented immigrants arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses are no longer subjected to being placed on a 48-hour immigration hold at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, however, said he would continue to cooperate with ICE.

"If ICE says, 'We really want this person held,' we're going to hold them," said Youngblood. "Because we don't know why that person is being held."

Youngblood also claims federal law supports his decision to honor requests for an immigration hold. Youngblood cited the federal Secure Communities program that he said requires him to honor immigration holds.

"If I release someone during that 48-hour period, and they go out and commit this heinous crime, what the media is going to say is, 'Sheriff, federal law says you shall hold them, and you didn't, and look what happened.' So, the sheriff is in the cross hairs again, it's one of those state-federal laws that conflict," said Youngblood.

But, others don't quiet see things that way.

"I don't think the sheriff has as much of a conflict as perhaps he perceives," said Bakersfield immigration attorney Win Eaton.

"There has to be some legal authority of the county sheriff to detain somebody, otherwise it is an unlawful detainer," said Eaton.

The attorney said that while he respects Youngblood, the sheriff needs to abide by the Trust Act, because, in his view, the Trust Act does not conflict with federal law.

Another concern is that the county could be exposed to costly litigation if it wrongly interprets the Trust Act. County Counsel Theresa Goldner said her office is currently reviewing the Trust Act and is working with the sheriff's office in interpreting the law.

Goldner said her office will provide advice to the sheriff on how to interpret the law.

The Trust Act was passed by the state legislature last year and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in response to a number of issues raised by the Secure Communities program. Started in 2008, the Secure Communities program allowed state and local police agencies to share fingerprints of booked at local jails with ICE. The goal of the operation was to catch deportable criminals. But immigrant rights activists claimed Secure Communities only lead to deportations of many undocumented immigrants who had no record of any serious criminal history.

Such was the case of Bakersfield resident Ruth Montao. She was arrested and charged with allegedly assaulting an officer when deputies responded to a call of barking dogs at her mobile home. An undocumented immigrant, Montao had no serious criminal history but suddenly found herself facing deportation. Immigration authorities dropped the case in April 2013.