Immigration and customs officials arrested 49 undocumented individuals in Santa Barbara County with criminal records during a 30-day effort that ended on September 25. That sweep came on the heels of a widely reported four-day sweep in seven Southern California counties that resulted in 20 arrests in Santa Barbara County and 244 total.
The month-long surge targeted people who fell into the agency’s Priority I or Priority II classifications, meaning they were convicted of felonies — or multiple or significant misdemeanors — according to ICE officials. All but one of the 49 had criminal histories consistent with the top two enforcement priorities. Most cases were DUIs, domestic violence, or drug cases, and many of the arrestees had previously been deported. In those cases, they are sent to the U.S.-Mexican border in a 15-person van. Most of the arrests were made in Santa Maria; a handful took place in Lompoc, Solvang, and Guadalupe. (During the four-day sweep in late August, 15 of the 20 arrests in the county were made in Santa Maria.)
The two recent sweeps come at a time when the debate about immigration has heated up in the county and across the nation. In July, the case of Victor Martinez — an undocumented Mexican immigrant charged with brutally murdering Marylin Pharis in Santa Maria — ignited the issue in the area. Martinez had been released from jail three days before the murder on misdemeanor charges of drug and weapon possession. By ICE’s categories, Martinez was a Priority III, the lowest priority for deportation.
Authorities say this targeted enforcement action is in response to the state’s AB 109 — prison realignment measure — that resulted in more inmates being released from jail. Further, a court case known as the Clackamas Decision stated county jails are not required to comply with ICE detainer requests; in fact, doing so could violate the Fourth Amendment.
At a hearing in Santa Maria last week, ICE officials walked county supervisors through their protocols, explaining that their target enforcement actions focus on undocumented people who have been convicted of serious crimes. A program known as PEP (Priority Enforcement Program) replaced last year’s program called Secure Communities, which cast a net over all undocumented arrestees whether or not they were actually convicted. But a number of questions raised at that hearing — which saw dozens of advocates on both sides of the immigration issue — remain unanswered, including the number of people deported from the county each year, the number of top priority cases currently on the street, and the number of undocumented inmates in the county jail. The Santa Barbara Independent submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) request asking those questions.