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By Tina Fisher Cunningham
Fisher Forde Media 

Local jurisdictions uphold sanctuary law

The Forde Files No. 168


SB 54 prohibits police, sheriff deputies from cooperating on most ICE actions

Law enforcement jurisdictions in the Greater Tehachapi area are upholding the California state law that prohibits them from assisting federal authorities in most illegal immigration enforcement activities.

"It's not a big problem. It's no problem at all," Tehachapi Chief of Police Kent Kroeger said to Forde Files. "There is extensive policy regarding immigration violation. If there is a request for information from federal agencies, we would look at it to see if it is permissible under the California Values Act. If so, we would give them that information."

[The California Values Act is Chapter 7284 of Senate Bill 54, the "Sanctuary State" bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown on Oct. 5, 2017.]

"The government code section lays out what we're authorized to do. Our policy is consistent with that government code," Kroeger said.

"There are no immigration authorities in the Tehachapi area," he said. "Our agency hasn't received any request from federal agencies."

Tehachapi's enforcement of the state law is based on the policy manual from Lexipol, a national company that analyzes state laws and provides the training to enable smaller law enforcement agencies to enforce laws legally. Kroeger said that Lexipol's guidelines are consistent with state and case law. Stallion Springs Police Department also uses the Lexipol training.

"The only thing we do is if somebody commits a crime, you will be processed in accordance with the law," Tehachapi City Manager Greg Garrett said. "We book them into the Kern County jail. We do not look for documented or undocumented. We process the problem accordingly. Tehachapi is not in the immigration business."

Does Tehachapi assist federal authorities in immigration matters?

"Nobody's ever asked," Garrett said. "There are no problems. We have never had a sweep. No complaints from anyone in the public."

Bear Valley Springs Chief of Police Tim Melanson, who had been chief for three weeks when Forde Files talked to him April 24, said that he has directed his officers to follow the California law and not to detain anyone for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). His position, Melanson said, is consistent with that of the previous Bear Valley chief.

"Follow the state law – I have advised them to do that until there is a more recent legal opinion. We will not honor an ICE hold. We will hold off on requesting assistance of federal agents."

He said the directive is guidance on SB 54 but not official policy, which is updated every two years. "We look to general counsel for guidance," he said.

"Nobody can recall having to address this," Melanson said. "It doesn't happen in Bear Valley."

In any case, he said, "We never ask about immigration status or anything like that."

While Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood has spoken in opposition to the California law, the Kern County Sheriff's Office, which patrols much of the Greater Tehachapi area, follows the law.

"Even though the Sheriff opposes the law, we're still following the law as it's written," Sheriff's Office Public Information Officer Lt. Avery Simpson told Forde Files. "We're also not withholding information that we're allowed to release [to federal authorities]."

Sgt. Steve Battistoni, in charge of the Tehachapi Sheriff's Substation, left policy statements to the PIO but said he has not had to deal with an SB 54 situation.

"I've never dealt with any of these things up here," he said.

Four of the Kern County Board of Supervisors went on record in opposition to the law prior to its passage, with Supervisor Leticia Perez standing in support.

Some cities in California oppose the state sanctuary law and are fighting it with lawsuits. The City Council of Los Alamitos laid down the first challenge, and at least 17 other cities so far are on record in opposition to the law.

Law enforcement leaders tend to get either testy or resigned when queried about enforcement of SB 54, as the legislation forces public safety officers to be stuck in the middle between conflicting state and federal policies. Law enforcement personnel decline to express their opinions as they dutifully carry out their sworn mission to enforce state law, mindful that their certification as law enforcement officers in California derives from the state's Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

"Law enforcement's job is to enforce, not to write the laws. That's up to the lawmakers and citizens," Sgt. Gary Crowell of the Stallion Springs Police Dept. said. "If it's right or wrong, I can't really say."

City Manager Garrett, when pressed on issue of clashing laws, excoriated the battle between Sacramento and Washington, D.C.

"They are creating chaos at the local level," Garrett said. "We're the losers here. We get caught up in stupid scenarios with taxpayer dollars. No state can make a law that supersedes the federal government. People are not playing nice in the sandbox. At the local level we're conflicted and forced to waste taxpayer dollars.

"These guys are controlling our destiny..."


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