Immigrant Plan Wrong, Activists Say

Times Staff Writer

Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona outlined to Latino activists on Monday his plan for deputies to enforce federal immigration laws, provoking concern among the activists that it would promote racial profiling.

The sheriff wants to train 200 deputies this year, and eventually more, to use federal immigration databases to uncover criminal immigrants.

On Monday, Carona met with the Orange County Community Coalition, an organization he created about six years ago comprising mostly Latino organizations. Its function is to provide advice on his policies, and on Monday, he got some.


“All of the members of the coalition are against the sheriff involving himself in immigration matters,” said Amin David, who leads Los Amigos of Orange County, a Latino advocacy group.

Members of Los Amigos of Orange County, the Santa Ana chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund said giving deputies federal power could result in more racial profiling and deportation of hard-working, poorly paid immigrants simply for violating traffic laws.

They also said undocumented immigrants would be less likely to report crimes when the plan went into effect for fear of being deported.

“My fear is that the Sheriff’s Department will focus on looking for immigrant criminals instead of all criminals,” said Los Amigos member Luis Arturo Guevara.

“We all know there is a large undocumented community and there are many places where they look for work on street corners. It seems this could mean more of them could be picked up.”

Zeke Hernandez, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, agreed.

“We don’t want criminals in our community. No one does,” Hernandez said. “But we don’t want federal moneys used to find just certain criminals,” he said. “This could be an incentive just to look for immigrants.”

Carona said that under the plan, people would not be apprehended solely because they appeared to be undocumented immigrants, nor would they be arrested solely for entering the country illegally.

Nor would those reporting a crime be apprehended for failing to prove legal residency.

“We don’t want to make victims out of victims,” Carona said.

Orange County Jail holds an average of 6,000 suspects a day, and an average of 618 foreign nationals whose immigration status is being investigated.

The immigration status of jailed suspects is checked by federal officers.

The immigration status of suspects who are not brought to the jail is not checked, but could be by the specially trained deputies.

Under Carona’s plan, sheriff’s deputies instead of officers from the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement office would interview suspected criminals who are immigrants.

If there was reasonable suspicion that the suspect had committed a felony, an immigration background check would be completed, Carona said.

Sheriff’s investigators would tap federal immigration databases to check the background of suspects in serious offenses, he said, and turn immigration violators over to federal officers for deportation.