SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Santa Clara County officials are shifting their position on contacting federal authorities about inmates convicted of violent crimes after an apparent undocumented felon was arrested in connection with the brutal killing of a South San Jose woman in late February.

Current county policy prevents jail officials from contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials if an inmate has been placed under a detainer request, which asks that inmates be held longer until federal authorities take them into custody. State law has ruled this process unconstitutional, and detainers are not considered as legal warrants.

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The new proposal from Supervisor Dave Cortese would instead allow local law enforcement to notify ICE if an inmate is about to be released, and push for ICE to obtain warrants in all cases. It would then review state law and determine a legal process for transferring inmates.

ICE already has access to local arrest data, according to the county, but contacting them directly would make it their responsibility to respond in a timely fashion and take individuals into custody. Data from San Mateo County shows that of almost 300 detainer requests issued by ICE in 2018 – all without warrants – agents only responded to pick up inmates fewer than 40 times.

Cortese said the county has expeditiously turned over inmates in three recent cases when ICE obtained warrants, but ICE must improve its track record of responsiveness.

“Ambiguity is not a friend, and it doesn’t help anyone in the system to do law enforcement the way they like,” Cortese said of the county’s current no-contact policy during a news conference Thursday.

The move comes after the killing of 59-year-old Bambi Larson on Feb. 28, and the arrest of 24-year-old Carlos Eduardo Arevalo Carranza in connection with her slaying. Police revealed in the following days that Arevalo Carranza had been deported once, arrested numerous times in connection with misdemeanors and violent felonies and released from county jail twice without ICE being notified.

Arevalo Carranza was charged with homicide in Santa Clara County court last week and may face a life sentence in prison if convicted.

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The announcement set off a furious debate over sanctuary county policy and blame in Larson’s death, with the San Jose mayor, police chief, county sheriff, and district attorney banding together to push the county for an improved notification process.

Cortese said his proposal in no way implies the county is responsible for all facets of a “broken immigration system,” but rather shows its willingness to collaborate with local agencies.

He added that he’s spoken with some immigrant advocacy groups about the proposal, and he shares their concerns of creating an unwelcoming atmosphere for law-abiding residents, but described the county as “progressive” and said it was one of the first to push back against unconstitutional ICE policies.

“We are proud of the fact that we’ve created a safe environment for immigrants,” Cortese said. “We don’t want to be deporting a hardworking breadwinner … and end up breaking up a family. On the other hand, we can’t have MS-13 gang members bailing themselves out of jail.”

He referred to the federal government’s immigration enforcement approach as “oppressive,” and said the county must re-engage ICE to abide by a system of warrants, like every other federal agency.

Cortese’s proposal asks that changes be implemented in a month to two months, and also requests a “deep analysis” of the county’s probation system in response to Arevalo Carranza having been on parole with apparent mental health problems.

The Board of Supervisors will discuss the proposal at its Tuesday meeting.


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