Faced with an amendment that would take its sanctuary policy from noncompliant to compliant with state and federal law, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously June 4 to adopt a resolution that reflects its “long-standing” commitment to cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
At the recommendation of the Santa Clara County Executive and County Counsel, the five supervisors endorsed language that not only eliminates observation of civil detainers, or immigration holds, but also deems them unconstitutional. The policy also rejects the possibility of establishing a notification system between law enforcement agencies and ICE.
In addition to the need to update its approach to reflect recent legislation, the decision to revisit the board’s policy was largely sparked by the Feb. 28 death of San Jose mother Bambi Larson. Detectives identified 24-year-old undocumented transient Carlos Eduardo Arevalo Carranza as the primary suspect in Larson’s case March 11. Due to overwhelming evidence, Arevalo Carranza is being held without bail on suspicion of slaying Larson in her bedroom on the 900 block of Knollfield Way.
The final straw
There are no exceptions written into the board’s amended policy for undocumented individuals who commit violent felonies, much to the chagrin of Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen.
The Los Altos resident spoke at the June 4 Board of Supervisors meeting about his office’s stance concerning the county’s cooperation with ICE. Addressing undocumented criminals is not a matter of politics, he said, but of safety.
“If you murder someone, I don’t care if you came from Mexico, Montenegro, Mars or Milpitas,” Rosen read from a prepared speech published on his office’s social media channels in April. “If you are a dangerous criminal, undocumented or not, then we don’t want you here anymore. That’s not politics, that’s protection – and protection is our job.”
Beyond the division around immigration law at all levels of government, local residents felt a deeper pain in the hometown tragedy. The conversation around Larson’s story intensified when San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia March 12 revealed that Arevalo Carranza was in the country illegally. Debate deteriorated when news of Larson’s death went viral, cuing President Donald Trump to use her as an example to further his interest in building his border wall.
“Bambi Larson was a mother, not a metaphor,” Rosen wrote days later. “She was a kind, wonderful person‚ not a political rallying cry.”
Rosen, Garcia and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo criticized the county’s policy and called on the board to strengthen its notification system. Although Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith issued a similar statement at the time, a representative from her office stated that they were not taking a stance at the board’s June 4 meeting.
County supervisors Mike Wasserman and Dave Cortese, the latter of whom had brought up the policy after the 2015 death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, submitted referrals asking county representatives to send back recommendations on how to revise the policy to best serve their constituents in no more than 60 days. Fewer than 60 days later, the board received the recommendations – and 150 speaker cards from the public.
The popular vote
The majority of those members of the public expressed feelings mirroring those of all supervisors but the board’s president – District 5 Supervisor Joe Simitian. Simitian’s colleagues discussed concerns about implementing any kind of a notification system and the potential strain just the knowledge of such a policy could have on the relationship between the county and its residents. After reviewing the matter, Wasserman rescinded his original support for a notification system, citing “no practical and legal way of knowing if a person within our custody is truly undocumented.”
Simitian prefaced his viewpoint by acknowledging an understanding of the need for Santa Clara County to remain a warm, inviting place for immigrants of all statuses and an appreciation for the capacity of all those present to conduct a respectful conversation about such an emotional matter. However, he concurred with Rosen – whom Cortese commended for giving a thorough commentary when asked to address a “hostile” room.
“As a general rule, I’m not enthusiastic about county cooperation with immigration officials,” Simitian said in a statement to the Town Crier after the meeting. “I do think, however, that we can and should make an exception when it comes to folks who are in the country unlawfully and who have committed serious or violent felonies while they are here. Other counties have managed to make this work, including San Mateo County right next door.”
The supervisor – who served in the State Senate while immigration policy like the California Values Act was being written at the state level – concluded his post-forum thoughts noting that “there simply wasn’t any support for that among his colleagues on the board.”