Although law enforcement has a new background-check system that examines the immigration status of everyone arrested countywide, authorities still have more ways to catch illegal immigrants, Costa Mesa Mayor Allan Mansoor said Tuesday.
"I was supportive and grateful for what [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] did, and I know the public was as well, but there is much more that can be done, and I will be bringing that forward," Mansoor said.
In April, Mansoor called a news conference to announce that he wanted local law enforcement and city leaders to look into various ways of beefing up enforcement of federal immigration laws.
He said that although Costa Mesa's jail had an ICE agent screening arrestees for immigration violations for the last four years, there were "holes" in the system, especially when the agent was not on duty.
Between 2006 and 2009, ICE detained 1,225 arrestees in Costa Mesa for possible deportation. Of those, about a third have been for alleged felonies.
Costa Mesa was one of a few in Orange County cities in past years with an ICE agent posted to the city jail.
That changed in March, however, when ICE introduced its "Secure Communities" program in Orange County. Today, the ICE agent is gone, and now everyone who is arrested in the county and booked has their identity run through the Department of Homeland Security's database in addition to the usual Department of Justice and FBI databases.
If someone appears to be in the country illegally or has violated residency requirements, ICE may issue a detainer to keep him or her in custody.
"Our focus is on the Level 1 offenders, those who have convictions for the most violent or serious offenses," said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. "We'll take a look at Level 2, Level 3 cases, and we'll make a decision about whether to follow up with enforcement action."
Since March, ICE has screened more than 20,000 suspects in Orange County and detained nearly 500, Kice said.
At this point, authorities can only check the immigration status of people arrested. However, Mansoor has pushed for more proactive techniques by police, such as checking the status of drivers pulled over who don't have a valid form of ID and can't have their names verified by police.
Last month the City Council declared Costa Mesa a "Rule of Law" city, a symbolic stance against illegal immigration.
In a street protest Monday afternoon, a dozen people were arrested after blocking traffic on Bristol Street in Costa Mesa in front of South Coast Plaza. The group of nearly 200 was calling for immigration reform and protesting the "Rule of Law" declaration, which is a rebuke to so-called "sanctuary cities."
Mansoor, who is running for the state Assembly on the Republican ticket, took a similar stance four years ago when he ran for re-election as mayor.
Critics then and now claim there are racial underpinnings to increased immigration enforcement. The city arrested a group of day laborers under the city's anti-soliciation ordinance last year, further galvanizing Latino activists.
In 2006, when police officers expressed concern that enforcing federal immigration laws would drive a wedge between them and the community, Mansoor disagreed.
"I would say that many citizens were supportive of what we were doing, including Hispanics," he said. "They want safe communities just like everyone else and they want good jobs to support their families. I also believe they want a fair system where we follow our laws. This is not about race or one group or another."