L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca Goes Up Against Immigrants' Rights Groups, Defends 'Secure Communities' to the Death
Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca is a complicated guy. One minute, he's preaching to 9/11-mongering bigots in Washington, D.C. on the importance of creating open, trustful relationships between a city's law-enforcement officers and its many diverse racial sectors (namely, the Muslim-American community, which could prove useful in providing terrorist tips). The next, Baca's fighting tooth and nail to preserve an Immigration and Customs Enforcement program widely condemned as racist, cruel and downright unconstitutional.
Congressmen in Washington, D.C., in fact, are calling for a moratorium on Secure Communities while the U.S. Inspector General launches an internal investigation into the mass deportation machine, which was created on a promise to clear America's streets of "criminal aliens" but has, in the process, torn apart many an innocent immigrant family and made a complete joke of our country's justice system.
While we'd expect a big patriotic valentine to ICE's Secure Communities from the likes of infamous Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, it's a little surprising to hear someone as thoughtful -- and, well, as Democrat -- as Baca backing this blatant Mexi-basher.
On May 16, Baca wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times titled "Let us deport the bad guys." The subhead reads, "Critics are wrong: The Secure Communities program works."
Sheriff Baca's argument:
In Los Angeles County, the Sheriff's Department also participates with ICE in a program known as 287g. Since 2006, that program has identified more than 20,000 criminal illegal immigrants here. ...
Both programs have drawn fire recently from groups concerned that they infringe on civil rights and that people arrested but not ultimately charged could end up being deported. The groups have expressed concern that the programs might lead to racial profiling or intimidate law-abiding residents who would be reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement to solve crimes. In San Francisco, the sheriff has vowed to release low-level offenders back into the community at the end of their terms, even if ICE has placed a hold on them.
These concerns are misplaced, and they put communities at risk. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, working in conjunction with the Board of Supervisors, implemented the 287g program years ago, and we were also early adopters of Secure Communities; we have not had significant problems.
He gave examples of two violent Los Angeles criminals who were successfully booted back over the border thanks to the controversial programs. Before they were implemented, he claimed, "we had a growing number of criminal illegal immigrants who were taken into custody and eventually had to be released back onto our streets."
Yesterday, Baca fanned the flames with an interview in La Opinion, in which he again lauded Secure Communities for its past successes and vouched for its future.
However, by page 2, his argument got some of the nuance it needed:
"Secure Communities would not be an issue if we had a process of documentation and legalization for workers," he told the Spanish-language newspaper. (Word.)
Still, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is fuming.
"S-Comm does not serve Los Angeles and instead forges fear, anxiety, and distrust between the police and the community," said executive director Angelica Salas in a statement yesterday. (Pretty much the opposite of Baca's mantra.)
The coalition is planning a protest outside the L.A. County Board of Supervisors' office tomorrow at 10 am. to "call on Sheriff Baca to retract his support of police-ICE collaboration programs." They'll also present him with a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Touche.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been accused of veering anti-Latino before. What do you think: Does Baca's latest unpopular opinion come from a place of well-meaning idealism, or flat-out prejudice?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.