The issue came up after a 21-year-old undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, who allegedly killed a father and two sons in cold blood, was reported to have benefited from San Francisco's "sanctuary" policy, which kept him from being deported despite having committed prior offenses that would have sent him home. San Francisco has rescinded that policy, so police and prosecutors are now free to turn serious criminals over to immigration authorities after their jail sentence is complete.
But in Mountain View, and all of Santa Clara County, immigration status is not taken into account by arresting officers unless a suspect is going to be charged with murder, robbery, sexual assault, assault with serous bodily injury, multiple burglaries or major fraud. Otherwise, as police spokesperson Liz Wylie said, the immigration status question isn't even on the county booking form.
The problem, as illustrated in the San Francisco case, is that the system in place today can unwittingly protect violent criminals who otherwise might be deported.
Mountain View Mayor Tom Means told the Voice that "Every city has the same issue as San Francisco. I don't think we are going to go around and ask, 'Are you legal or not?'" He added that the immigration question would be determined by "what type of crime is being committed. You would have to look at that and come up with a policy in terms of severity."
The "what type of crime" litmus test is what's being used today, yet there is no official policy on the matter. We believe there should be. It may be a political hot potato, but the county District Attorney's office should adopt a firm policy — ratified by the county Board of Supervisors — to guide local police departments on this critical issue, particularly for juveniles who have joined local gangs and are committing lesser offenses.
Until such time as our federal government gains the courage to enact just and comprehensive immigration legislation, such a policy would help local police decide if a suspected undocumented immigrant involved in criminal activity should be turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Mountain View and several other local cities have significant immigrant populations, including many who are undocumented. The large majority are good people who want to work and lead productive lives in this country, despite living in fear that a petty offense could lead to their immediate deportation (again underscoring the need for federal immigration reform). These illegal immigrants, who are otherwise law-abiding people, should not be the focus of a stepped-up policy to turn known criminals over to ICE.
Santa Clara County needs to make it more difficult, not easier, for an undocumented criminal to operate here. A better policy of tracking and referring such criminals for deportation is a good idea that we hope will find traction with county officials.