Taking an immigration stance at odds with most other California sheriffs, Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a bill that would permit jailing immigrants for deportation only if they are charged with serious crimes.
In an Aug. 23 letter to Brown made public Wednesday, Smith endorsed an immigrant rights bill that has ired her counterparts in the California State Sheriffs' Association.
The Trust Act -- AB 1081 -- would prohibit police from holding legal and illegal immigrants at jails for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless they are charged with serious or violent felonies. Approved last week by both houses of the Legislature, the bill sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would counteract the federal Secure Communities program that alerts federal agents whenever local police book a deportable immigrant.
Smith said in the letter that Secure Communities has "diminished trust" of police that Ammiano's bill would help restore.
"Immigrant victims and witnesses of crime have told me they are afraid to come forward to cooperate with local law enforcement," Smith wrote. She said government statistics show that 69 percent of those deported through the program have been "noncriminals" or people convicted of traffic violations and other low-level crimes.
About 80,000 people have been deported from California through Secure Communities since Brown, as attorney general, signed the state-federal partnership in 2009.
Several hundred immigrant rights activists in Sacramento on Tuesday called on Brown to support the bill, which he has until Sept. 30 to sign.
Most of California's 58 sheriffs, who run the county jails, support the federal partnership and want Ammiano's bill vetoed.
"We are actively, unalterably and vigorously opposed," said Nick Warner, a spokesman for the sheriff association. "It has constitutionally elected and sworn peace officers ignoring law and policy requests from the federal government."
Warner said he was unaware Wednesday of Smith's position and did not know of her letter.
Smith did not return a call and email seeking comment Wednesday. She is one of several sheriffs attending a conference this week at Placer County's Squaw Valley hosted by the sheriffs' association, said Santa Clara County Sheriff's Sgt. Jose Cardoza.
"I'm sure that individual sheriffs probably have a variety of opinions," said Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle, who opposes the bill. "My opinion is I don't think the state should be in the business of regulating immigration."
Santa Clara County became one of the only counties in the country to defy the Secure Communities program last year when supervisors passed an ordinance to refuse most requests by the federal government to hold deportable immigrants in the County Jail.
Sheriff Smith had strongly opposed the ordinance, saying it went too far by releasing even those with the most serious criminal records unless the federal government paid for their detention. In contrast, the Trust Act, she wrote, "allows local control and provides a mechanism to prevent serious felons from being released" into the community.