No matter the hot L.A. news item, it always seems to turn into an immigration debate.

And that should come as no surprise: Rough estimates have placed close to 1 million illegal immigrants in Los Angeles County. And whenever law enforcement or press come sniffing, the paperless are at risk of being outed.

This fear has reportedly played a large factor in the sheriff's probe of Miramonte Elementary in unincorporated South L.A.:

Sheriff's investigators have found around 600 photos, so far, of ex-teacher Mark Berndt allegedly feeding his bound-and-gagged students spoonfuls of his own semen — part of a sick “sex game” that went on for years.

Dozens of ex-teacher Mark Berndt's potential victims could still be out there, as well as victims of two other pervy teachers at Miramonte. (Yes, it's as messed up as it sounds.)

But some parents tell the Associated Press that “they aren't talking to authorities because they are afraid that the Sheriff's Department, which is in charge of the investigation, will refer them to immigration through the Secure Communities program.”

If anything's worth getting deported over, it's this.; Credit: KPCC

If anything's worth getting deported over, it's this.; Credit: KPCC

Right on cue, immigrants-rights groups and state politicians are taking the opportunity to decry Secure Communities — the federal program that allows local cops to call up ICE if they suspect they've got an illegal alien on their hands — anew.

All the way from NorCal, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is pitching his in-limbo AB 1081 as a “bright line between police and Immigration” that “would address [the] fear of Miramonte parents.”

The bill, nicknamed the Trust Act, would allow local governments to opt out of Secure Communities.

Of course, eliminating this one program won't magically fix America's broken immigration system. But it would be a start.

L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca, in particular, has remained a staunch supporter of Secure Communities in the face of heaps of evidence proving it doesn't serve its intended purpose, and generally does more harm than good. (Thus earning him the “next Sheriff Joe” badge, in our book.)

He's being battled in court by rights groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrants Rights of Los Angeles, who want Baca to release stats on undocumented Angelenos who've been deported through the program.

Until he does, it's hard to say how much harm it's really done. But awful anecdotes suggest that Miramonte parents are right to be worried.

According to CHIRLA, attorneys for the Miramonte parents suing the district over Berdnt's abuse have demanded “written assurances by Sheriff Baca that undocumented victims will not be deported through Secure Communities program.”

He knows full well not to enter another PR disaster with the department in such an embattled state, and has promised not to deport any parents demanding justice for their molested kids. Obviously.

But it sure makes a good angle for the immigrants-rights folks. See also: The Compton parents blasted with (empty) threats of deportation after demanding a better education for their kids.

[@simone_electra / / @LAWeeklyNews]

LA Weekly