No ‘sanctuary’ for illegal immigrants in Tulare County

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Supervisors support Sheriff Boudreaux’s opposition to loopholes in SB 54, California’s “sanctuary law”

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – Nearly one in ten people in Tulare County is living here illegally, the majority of whom live in fear. Their greatest fears depend on who you ask. Most of their families and migrant advocacy groups say they live in fear of being ripped from their families by ICE agents and deported to a country they no longer know. But Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and the Board of Supervisors say they are just as afraid of being victimized by other undocumented residents who they know won’t turn them in for fear of being deported. Those undocumented criminals are also victimizing citizens, Boudreaux argues, creating fear across all segments of the population.

Mike Boudreaux Tulare Co. Sheriff

Mike Boudreaux
Tulare Co. Sheriff

That was the stance of county officials who voted last week to oppose the State’s “sanctuary law” which prohibits local law enforcement from enforcing federal laws regarding immigration. Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said the law, formally known as Senate Bill 54 or the California Values Act, has hindered his department’s ability to bring some criminals to justice since it was signed into law last October. Boudreaux addressed the Supervisors but was appealing to the crowd in the packed board chambers when he said he understood this was an emotionally charged meeting. He said he was born and raised in Porterville where many of his friends were undocumented. 

“This is bigger than local law enforcement and the state has tied the hands of local law enforcement,” the Sheriff said. 

Boudreaux chose his words wisely when saying he has and will always provide public safety for “those who live here” but that he would also seek justice “if you are here committing crimes.” He explained that there are loopholes in SB 54 that allow criminals to extort undocumented residents from reporting crimes against their families, such as forcing children into prostitution, drug dealing and gangs. 

SB 54 prevents local law enforcement from holding potentially deportable immigrants for ICE unless they have been convicted of serious or violent crimes, or misdemeanors that could be classified as felonies, or a judicial warrant has been issued. The law also prohibits local agencies from: Asking someone their immigration status or detain solely because of that status; Hold someone past their jail release date based on a civil immigration warrant; Assist in arrests based on civil immigration warrants; Provide a detainee’s information unless that information is already public; Provide office space for federal immigration agents, etc.; and Allow local agency officers to be supervised by federal agencies for immigration enforcement purposes. 

Three months after the bill was signed by the Governor on Oct. 5, several other sections of the bill were enacted. As of Dec. 5, 2017, public schools, libraries, courthouses and health facilities run by local or state government had to adopt similar policies to SB 54; while federal agencies were “encouraged” but not required to do the same. 

The law could also deny the Sheriff’s Department access to federal funds used to reimburse local jails for costs associated with housing undocumented criminals for ICE. Boudreaux said the county does not want to risk a reduction of federal funding due to information that they are unable to provide voluntarily. 

“I need every tool to provide public safety,” Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux said one of the side effects of SB 54 could be increased ICE raids into unincorporated communities. Like Boudreaux many sheriffs have long opposed the sanctuary law because it cuts off communication between ICE and local agencies, forcing ICE agents to go into communities instead of the jails. “I want to prevent that,” Boudreaux said. Since January 2017, Tulare County has released 110 inmates from county jails to ICE.

Under SB 54, local law enforcement agencies are restricted to passing on information about inmates who have previously been deported for a violent felony, are serving time on a misdemeanor or felony and have a prior serious or violent felony conviction. Otherwise, agencies can only respond to requests from ICE for information already available to the public.

“We are less safe because of the way this law is written,” Boudreaux said. 

He used the example of unincorporated communities and labor camps like Plainview and Woodville to illustrate a vicious cycle of domestic violence, where undocumented criminals pray on undocumented victims who fear any contact with law enforcement, including reporting crimes due to their immigration status. He also gave a more personal example of one of his deputies, Puma Franks, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was brought here illegally by her parents. Franks, who became a U.S. citizen before becoming a deputy, has been on both sides of the undocumented issue, having a brother who was arrested in Arizona and deported for being undocumented and a father who abused her and her mother but avoided incarceration because members feared if they reported him they would be deported themselves.

“Her father, who committed multiple crimes, was repeatedly returned to the community to continue to be a menace,” Boudreaux said. 

“I don’t even understand why you took this up?”

Visalia’s Jessica Macias Mercado said she and her mother were also the victims of an abusive father who knew his undocumented wife would not report him to the police for fear of them both being deported. But Macias, a DACA recipient, said there is a vast difference between having an abusive husband in America instead of Mexico. Just by living here, in the same abusive relationship, her mother gave Macias the opportunity to become an independent woman, get an education and graduate from community college with two associate degrees this month. More than that, Macias said by raising her in America her mother gave her a chance to break the cycle of violence and start a life free of generational abuse. “We are your people, so support our ag workers and protect our communities.”

Mercado, and most of those in attendance at the meeting, said taking away the sanctuary status of Tulare County, if only symbolically, would hinder the Sheriff’s ability to catch those undocumented criminals because even fewer of their victims will come forward now that the Sheriff is openly working with ICE.

Jose Antonio Torres said he was a first generation U.S. citizen and also the first in his family to graduate college. He said there is little difference between himself and the estimated 37,000 undocumented immigrants living in Tulare County besides the side of the border on which they were born. He said most are employed, work hard to provide for their families and don’t commit any crimes other than not having a piece of paper saying they are a citizen.

“This resolution sends a message that “We don’t want you here and we are against you’,” he said. 

Corina Gallardo of Visalia said she agreed with Sheriff Boudreaux that SB 54 has loopholes in it, but that those loopholes are the issues that many undocumented residents and their legal resident family members deal with every day, such as immigration reform, access to healthcare, clean water and affordable housing.

“We need to come together and find solutions together,” she said.

John Kelly, a retired migrant education teacher and current member of the ACLU in Tulare County, said regardless of the Sheriff’s intentions to close loopholes within the sanctuary law, the resolution will result in ICE overreaching its influence within a sanctuary state in a county that should be a safe zone for its hard working residents.

“His role [as Sheriff] is to enforce the law of the land and right now SB 54 is the law of the land,” Kelly concluded.

Joshua Sollier of Porterville said the Sheriff’s arguments for the resolution were faulty and contradictory. He said Boudreaux claims that the law pits local law enforcement against their federal counterparts but that this resolution pits local law enforcement against their state counterparts. He said if Boudreaux and other sheriffs wanted to change the law they should go through the appropriate channels and amend SB 54 to close the loopholes, not simply state they don’t like following the law.

“You know that terrorizing a group of people is bad,” Sollier said. “How do we fix this without terrorizing our own communities?”

Barry Caplan, with the LGBT advocacy group called Porterville Equality and Fairness for All, said the Sheriff is using the same language that Tulare County used to justify rounding up Japanese residents into internment camps during World War II. 

“That’s our shame but we are better than that now,” Caplan said. “It was shameful then and it is shameful now. Let this go and don’t get involved.”

Lujana Tate has spent her entire life in Tulare County and spent her early years living at Linnel Labor Camp in Farmersville. She said she taught her Mexican friends English and they taught her Spanish and she has watched as waves of undocumented workers from Mexico have continued to come here to do the jobs Americans won’t do anymore. She said they work in our fields, our yards, our houses and many start their own businesses and give back to our communities. She urged the supervisors not to vote for the resolution because it would amount to cultural and identity politics. 

“You don’t have any ‘R’s or ‘D’s next to your names,” she said referring to political party designation that do not appear on the ballot in local races. “And the Sheriff doesn’t have any political affiliation. I don’t even understand why you took this up?”

“If you are here illegally, you have no right to redress my government.”

Few spoke in defense of the resolution proposed by Sheriff Boudreaux, but the Sheriff claimed that he had received emails from both sides. One person in support of the resolution was Ben Berklum, who urged the Supervisors to fight the sanctuary law. Berklum said he represented “thousands of people who can’t be here because they are at work” who, like him, felt that SB 54 was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. 

“If you are here illegally, you have no right to redress my government and the mics should be shut off,” Berklum said. “This is about lawlessness and protecting criminals over American citizens. You have a duty to uphold the Constitution.”

Hanford City Councilman Martin Devine backed up that claim by quoting Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the U.S. Constitution which expressly gives Congress the power “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.” Devine said this is why the Hanford City Council voted to oppose SB 54. Hanford joined the cities of Santa Clarita, Newport Beach, Los Alamitos and Huntington Beach in opposition of the sanctuary law. Santa Clarita also filed an amicus brief against the state law and Huntington Beach filed a lawsuit against the state over SB 54.

Jack Lavers, a Kern County resident running for Assembly District 26, said his great-grandfather was forced to flee from Mexico illegally but upon arriving here dedicated himself to becoming a citizen. Lavers said he learned his great-grandfather learned English and had an appreciation for the “pure love” for America that those who obtained legal citizenship had for their adopted homes.

“SB 54 is a slap in the face for those who strive for the American Dream and did it the right way,” Lavers said.

“I assure it is unbelievable how many hoops people have to go through to become a citizen.”

In between the back and forth between extreme views the real problems with immigration policy in America briefly surfaced. Andrew Glazer, who lives outside the city limits of Exeter, said the questions the country should be asking is why more people who come here illegally to work aren’t becoming legal citizens – because the immigration process is too costly and too confusing for most people to complete. 

“I assure it is unbelievable how many hoops people have to go through to become a citizen,” Glazer said. 

Glazer shared the story of his wife and her daughter’s pathway to citizenship from the United Kingdom, a country with few restrictions that shares a similar language and democratic system with America. He said a single vaccination for this step daughter was $300 and overall he is $12,000 into the process with another three or four years to go, despite knowing English and being familiar with the form-filled American bureaucracy. 

“What these folks are going through is unbelievably difficult,” he said.

He also pointed out that many of those this resolution would punish are hard working people who are the only people willing to do the difficult work of picking and harvesting that keeps Tulare County’s agriculture economy moving.

“The moral character of people who  come 1,000 miles to feed their families is tremendous,” he said. 

Phillip Applebaum said his grandparents emigrated to the United States through Ellis Island in the Upper New York Bay. He said his grandmother spoke Yiddish her entire life and never learned English because she lived in a community of people who spoke her native language, similar to many of those who come here from Mexico. Historians estimate as much as 40% of the current U.S. population can trace their ancestry through Ellis Island, which required little paperwork to become a citizen. According to History.com, the naturalization process through places like Ellis Island included a medical inspection for infectious disease and a legal inspection of 32 questions including their name, place of origin, occupation, financial status, criminal history and their planned destination within the country. Only the sick and those with legal problems were referred to Ellis Island, and the entire process took between three and five hours.

“A lot of the people who came through Ellis Island came to the country illegally,” Applebaum said.

“We are sending a message to the state that you have loopholes.”

Supervisor Mike Ennis said the audience had the wrong idea about why the Sheriff was in opposition to SB 54. He said he had emails from all over his district from people who support this resolution because they want the county to be a better place to live for everyone. 

“We are sending a message to the state that you have loopholes [in this law] and we want you to address them,” he said, before making a motion to approve the resolution.

The motion was seconded by Supervisor Pete Vander Poel told the crowd that you don’t need a letter by your name for people to tell which side of the political aisle they are on. He said his job as a supervisor is to implement policy that assists the Sheriff in keeping communities safe. He cited the resolution which states that “Federal law concerning immigration is solely within U.S. jurisdiction” and reminded the crowd that just last fall the Supervisors had approved a resolution urging legislators to find a long-term solution for DACA recipients.

“We have supported immigration and immigrants but we don’t want to support those who are preying on those living productive lives in our county,” Vander Poel said. 

Supervisor Kuyler Crocker, vice chairman of the board, cast the deciding vote in the 3-1 decision. “We need to stand up for the individuals who are cooperating [with law enforcement.],” he said. Chairman Steve Worthley was absent from the meeting because he was representing Tulare County and the San Joaquin Valley region in Washington, D.C. 

The lone dissenting vote was cast by Supervisor Amy Shuklian, who said she could not support a resolution when there is pending litigation up and down the state surrounding the sanctuary law. 

“We are pawns in a spitting contest between the feds and the state,” Shuklian said. “We came up here and raised our hands to uphold the Constitution and the constitution of California. What do you do when those two entities are pitted against each other?”

The decision makes Tulare County the third county to oppose SB 54 but less formally than the first two. Orange County joined in federal lawsuit regarding the sanctuary law against the State of California and San Diego County filed its own amicus brief in opposition to SB 54.  

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