Better safe than sorry on immigration | August 1, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - August 1, 2008

Better safe than sorry on immigration

The disclosure in last week's Voice that when making an arrest, in most cases Mountain View police officers do not inquire about a suspect's immigration status, raises some serious questions about undocumented immigrants who break local laws.

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 San Francisco has rescinded that policy, so police and prosecutors are now free to turn serious criminals over to immigration authorities after their jail sentence is complete.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.


Posted by Liz, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2008 at 10:13 am

So plain old simple assault, a single burglary and minor fraud are not crimes deemed important enough to a check into immigration status? What about drug possession?

Funny, a legal citizen charged with any major or minor crime would have the record attached to her legal identity for life. It's a double standard.

Posted by MBAT, a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 1, 2008 at 3:09 pm

Complaints if the police ask, "Are you legally in the USA".
Complaints if the police don't ask, "Are you legally in the USA".

Sucks to be the police, I think....

Posted by Chris, a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 3, 2008 at 12:40 am

I do understand that many illegal immigrants work hard, however the law should not be ignored. Individuals should be asked if they are a legally in the USA at the time of any arrest. I'm really tired of the finger pointing blaming the feds, rather than standing and doing what is right for our sovereignty. Who are we protecting if we don't ask...individuals here illegally or people who make big money off of slave labor? We are not protecting the citizens and legal residents of the nation! This is frustrating! If we have labor needs we need a legal method of obtaining employees, this includes immigration! Nonetheless, we are at war with a determined terrorist enemy, namely Al Qaeda, and we are not verifying who is coming in the country. Are we asking for a disaster?

Posted by Jon Wiener, a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2008 at 11:50 pm

What do the Board of Supervisors have to do with this?

Posted by Jon Wiener, a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2008 at 11:50 pm