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.


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