L.A. County Sheriff says he opposes a state sanctuary bill out of concern for immigrants

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he understands the struggles of immigrants trying to make a better life in America.

His parents moved to Boston from Ireland a year before he was born. His father was a laborer whose gigs included digging ditches.

But McDonnell now finds himself walking a political tightrope, breaking ranks with many other Los Angeles politicians by opposing a “sanctuary state” bill that aims to prevent federal immigration agents from taking custody of people being released from California jails.

In deep blue, immigrant-rich California, it’s proven to be good politics for officials to stand up to President Trump’s policies, especially over his promise of mass deportation for people in the U.S. illegally. But McDonnell and some other sheriffs who oversee jails say they have no choice but to make a stand against a sanctuary proposal that they believe is more likely to hurt immigrants than protect them.

Claude Arnold, a retired special agent who was in charge of ICE’s Los Angeles region, said that the bill, if enacted, could lead to a showdown with federal officials, who might subpoena a police agency’s records or sue the agency in court.

“It forces sheriffs and police departments to harbor aliens — a federal crime,” he said.

In a March 9 letter to De León explaining his opposition to the bill, McDonnell raised the specter of immigration agents casting a “wide net” in local communities after being shut out of the jails. He also wrote that the list of violent felonies where sheriffs would be permitted to notify federal authorities is too narrow, leaving out crimes including assault with a deadly weapon, shooting at an occupied dwelling and rape of an unconscious victim.

Deporting dangerous people makes immigrant communities safer, McDonnell said.

“I look at myself as a son of immigrants, and I feel somewhat sensitive about the needs of that community,” he said. “But at the same time, we don’t want to put predators back in the communities from where they came, to victimize people over and over again.”


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