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Cowboy (or Sheriff) Justice for Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration lawyers in San Antonio, Texas and other states with high rates of undocumented immigrants would do well to take notice of the goings on in California. The Trust Act was signed into law on Saturday by Governor Jerry Brown, putting the state at the vanguard of changing the way the law handles minor crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. With the federal Secure Communities program that started in 2008, state and local police agencies could hold arrested individuals while sharing fingerprints with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The idea behind the Secure Communities program was to identify undocumented immigrants who pose a safety threat to the public for expedited deportation between the partnership of the local and federal agencies. And this guy is standing by that idea.

Readers are reminded of the frontier justice often cited in places like Texas and Arizona, and immigration lawyers in San Antonio would find themselves with interesting cases, should sheriffs in the lone star state take on the similar fancies of cowboy law that the Kern County Sheriff seems to be. Despite the Trust Act’s provisions that immigrants in the country illegally would have to be charged or convicted with a serious offense to be eligible for a 48-hour hold and transfer to U.S. immigration authorities, this California Sheriff says he’s going to keep on holding ‘em all. Designed to free offenders who commit minor offenses from longer-than-necessary detentions, the Trust Act also keeps offenders arrested for minor infractions of the law from gumming up the ICE system, leaving authorities to identify criminals who are more serious threats to society.

Kern County Sheriff Youngblood doesn’t see it that way, and frankly, he doesn’t give a damn. Immigration lawyers in Texas and California, as well as Arizona, New York, and other states heavily influenced by large numbers of undocumented immigrants may need to help others like Sheriff Youngblood interpret new bills signed into law, but he’s convinced that the Trust Act doesn’t conflict with the federal Secure Communities program. The California sheriff is worried that if he releases an offender within the 48-hour period who then commits a serious crime, he’ll be likely to be blamed. Attorneys in California are making arguments that the Sheriff actually has no legal authority to detain the offenders, making his actions unlawful. Immigration lawyers in San Antonio, Texas who are paying attention could several cases in which undocumented workers with no criminal history and minor infractions suddenly find themselves facing deportation.

In the meantime, Kern County Sheriff Youngblood is working with the County Counsel to review the Trust Act and Youngblood’s interpretation of it. One concern is that the Sheriff could expose the county to costly litigation if the Trust Act is wrongly interpreted. While there may be other cowboy cops out there who are willing to take the interpretation of the law into their own hands, Sheriff Youngblood is standing front and center as a representative of the debate on the Trust Act’s implementation in California for now.

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