Cordell: Santa Clara County must keep sanctuary policy intact

The killing of Bambi Larson, a beloved San Jose resident, has caused an outpouring of grief. I join with people from all walks of life in offering condolences to Ms. Larson’s family and friends. In the wake of this tragedy, many of us, understandably, feel anger and some are fearful.

Our elected officials must now take the lead to bring healing and unity to the community. The proposal to weaken the due process protections of our county’s “sanctuary” policy that would allow ICE to arrest detained immigrants without first obtaining judicially-issued warrants, is beyond disappointing; it’s counter-productive.

Under the county’s “civil detainer” procedure, a warrant issued by a judge must precede delivery of an arrestee to ICE.

This common sense policy furthers trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, because witnesses and victims of crimes within our immigrant population are willing to step forward to cooperate with police departments, and that benefits us all. Indeed, a UCSD professor recently found that 60% of undocumented immigrants are less likely to report crimes they witnessed when local law enforcement cooperates with ICE.

Based upon my long experience on the Santa Clara County Superior Court and as the former Independent Police Auditor for San Jose, I know that when we rush to change policy based on fear, rather than fact, one tragic consequence is that the poor and people of color are subjected to discrimination and injustice.

If we allow law enforcement to hand people over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) without requiring ICE to first obtain arrest warrants, signed by judges, we will only further strain community-police relations.

Justice and fairness demand that there be no shortcuts when it comes to protecting the rights of all who live and work in Santa Clara County. I approved countless arrest and search warrants during my 19 years as a judge. It is not a complicated process. Judges are on-call 24-7 to consider requests for these warrants.

Nearly two in five Santa Clara County residents are immigrants, of whom 138,000 are undocumented, and thus, at risk of banishment at the whim of the Trump administration.

We must not follow Donald Trump’s relentless demonization of immigrants, nor must we condone his politicization of tragedies, such as the death of Ms. Larson. One person’s criminal conduct must not be used as an excuse to punish an entire class of people.

Our sanctuary policy protects immigrants from this White House’s xenophobic and racist policies. Current rhetoric concerning “predatory” immigrants is eerily reminiscent of the debate over so-called “super-predators” in the 1990s that fueled the now-discredited mass incarceration policies.

Despite a huge $7.5 billion budget, ICE has repeatedly attempted to conscript local law enforcement agencies to advance its mission.

A former ICE spokesperson says he was told to “flat-out lie” to the public. ICE agents pressure local jails to hold people after they have served their time and to notify them of inmates’ release times, all without judicial warrants. Courts have found this conduct to be unconstitutional. Disturbingly, the ACLU reports that ICE issued 420 improper “detainer requests” to U.S. citizens in a Miami jail. In one instance, ICE wrongly detained a Jamaican-born U.S. citizen for three years.

The Board of Supervisors must uphold the county’s sanctuary policy. We need healing and fellowship, not division and scapegoating.

Judge LaDoris Cordell is a retired judge of the Superior Court of California and former Independent Police Auditor for the city of San Jose.

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