Sparking a firestorm of outrage from his three challengers and immigrant rights advocates, Sheriff Jim Anderson - now running for reelection — voiced interest in a provision of a federal bill that would give local law enforcement officers the authority to detain and arrest immigrants for being in the United States illegally. That authority currently resides exclusively with federal immigration agents; local law enforcement can arrest illegal immigrants only if they’ve broken other American laws. At a League of Women Voters forum in Goleta last week, Anderson argued that federal agencies have failed to secure U.S. borders, and it should now fall to local agencies to enforce immigration laws that minimize prospective terrorist threats. “It’s not like I’m proposing that we do massive sweeps and send people across the border,” Anderson explained a few days later. “It’s more specific than that.” He also said the new powers could be used to stop immigrants from committing felonies. “It’s just a concept I threw out for discussion,” he said, adding that his final decision on the matter will be based on the response he gets.
Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown argued such a change would destroy the hard-earned trust between law enforcement and the county’s wary immigrant population. “Our job is to protect and serve the whole community,” said Brown. “We can’t do that if people are afraid that if they report a crime we might put them in jail.” Former sheriff Jim Thomas agreed, saying that in communities like Santa Maria — where he estimated the illegal immigrant population is as high as 20 percent — such a law would lead to a devastating breakdown of social order. Thomas also suggested Anderson sought to capitalize on any anti-immigrant backlash predicted to stem from last Monday’s A Day Without Immigrants rally. Sheriff’s Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi objected, “I can’t remember the last time anyone from the country of Mexico was involved in terrorism in the United States. To make such remarks right before Monday’s big march and Cinco de Mayo was very, very insensitive.”
The legislation that gave rise to Anderson’s comments is part of the controversial Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Immigrant Control Act authored by Congressman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and approved by the House of Representatives. Provisions within that bill — including making it a felony to cross the border illegally — sparked the wave of immigrant rights protests sweeping the nation. Anderson said he is not taking a position on the Sensenbrenner bill.