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Baca will no longer turn over low-level offenders to immigration

December 5, 2012 |  1:05 pm

Sheriff Lee Baca holds a press conference in September. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he will no longer honor requests from federal authorities to detain suspected illegal immigrants arrested for low-level crimes, a reversal from his previous support of the controversial Secure Communities program.

Until recently, Baca has been adamant about complying with the federal requests, arguing that they were mandatory. He was the most outspoken opponent of a bill called the Trust Act, which would have required California law enforcement to disregard the requests in many cases.

A Baca spokesman said the change was prompted by a legal directive issued by California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Tuesday indicating that compliance with the federal requests is at the discretion of sheriffs' and police departments.

The change may not take effect immediately. Baca has directed his staff to flesh out the details of the new policy, which would apply only to those arrested for misdemeanors. It would still require jailers to honor federal detention requests for those accused of serious or violent crimes.

Under Secure Communities, all arrestees' fingerprints are sent to immigration officials, who may ask that they be held for up to 48 hours until transfer to federal custody.

The program has come under fire for ensnaring minor offenders when its stated purpose is to deport dangerous criminals. Critics say it has made immigrants fearful of cooperating with police.

Last month, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that his department would no longer honor federal immigration detainers for low-level arrestees not previously convicted of violent crimes. The LAPD joined several other California law enforcement agencies, including the San Francisco and the Santa Clara counties sheriffs' departments, that were already declining the requests.

“The last thing we want is victims to be frightened to come forward,” said Steve Whitmore, the Baca spokesman.

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-- Cindy Chang

Photo: Sheriff Lee Baca holds a press conference in September. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times

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