More than 100 people gathered in front of the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa on Thursday afternoon for a prayer vigil to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign a legislation limiting local law enforcement's ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
The group included local clergy, immigration advocates, undocumented immigrants and community leaders. Some immigrants described how they had eventually landed in deportation proceedings after being stopped for a traffic violation.
If signed by the governor, Assembly Bill 1081 by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would prohibit local police agencies from detaining suspected illegal immigrants on federal immigration holds except in cases where suspects have been charged with a serious or violent felony or convicted of one in the past.
"I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe he was a liberator. I believe he had compassion and love for everyone," said Rev. Lee Turner of Santa Rosa's Community Baptist Church. "So-called 'illegal immigrant' doesn't mean you're an illegal human being. We stand here on behalf of all human beings and what this country truly stands for."
Though directed toward the governor, the vigil was held at the county jail complex as a symbolic gesture. Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas opposes the measure, saying it would force him to either defy the new state law or ignore federal regulations. Under the federal Secure Communities program, many undocumented immigrants are flagged in jail after their fingerprints and other biometric data are checked against federal immigration records.
Freitas argues that the language in the regulations expressly states that he "shall maintain custody of the alien" for up to 48 hours, giving federal authorities the opportunity to take the inmate into custody.
But that argument is challenged in a Aug. 30 letter signed by 30 law professors across the country, including the deans of the UC Berkeley and UC Irvine law schools, that urges the governor to sign the bill.
The authors state that "the voluntary nature of immigration detainers is clear from statutory and regulatory language and history and is required by Constitutional limits on the commandeering of local officials for federal civil enforcement purposes."
At the vigil, Luis Gonzalez, an undocumented immigrant who lives in Santa Rosa, described how he was stopped for making an illegal turn near the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in west Santa Rosa six years ago.
Gonzalez said there was an federal immigration agent in the sheriff's patrol car that pulled him over and that he's been fighting his case for the past six years. He said he recently applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program established this summer by President Barack Obama.