Mercury News July 24, 2015
By Raul Peralez
The heartbreaking death of Kathryn Steinle, who was allegedly killed on July 1 in San Francisco by an undocumented immigrant, sparked national debate over public safety and local law enforcement’s role in coordinating with immigration agents.
Some public figures and residents have used this tragedy to call for revisions of local and state policies that have protected and established trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, ensuring public safety.
In Santa Clara County, the detainer policy passed in 2011 enabled victims of crimes to openly cooperate with police without fear of being held or deported. But it is now also being called into question by our local elected officials.
I have a different perspective. No one who is a threat to public safety should be released or allowed to roam free in our streets, regardless of their immigration status. While some have once again chosen to scapegoat immigrants in the United States, I assert that the real problem here lies in an inadequate criminal justice system and the loopholes that allow dangerous criminals to be released.
Immigrants do not commit crimes at higher rates than citizens. If we want a true fix for crime, we need to fix these loopholes for everyone.
As a former police officer, I was bound by a set of strict rules before I could detain, cite or arrest anyone. I needed to confirm a level of probable cause that someone had committed a crime in order to arrest and hold them for that crime; once booked into jail, the clock began for required affidavits, arraignments, speedy trials and judges’ orders that would determine whether someone was to be held longer.
These protections against unreasonable arrest or detention, mandated by the U.S. constitution, are offered to all people. The same rules should apply to federal agents, and the same protections should be allotted to immigrants.
As it stands now, our criminal justice system requires due process for everyone who is charged with a crime. Even if that crime is murder or violent assault, charges still have to be proven by law enforcement officials; cases are heard by a judge who can set bail for release, and the accused is given a defense attorney.
I can’t agree with the scapegoating perception that somehow entering our country without permission is so egregious that it justifies the violation of people’s rights. This contributes to a dynamic where the judgment and treatment of all immigrants can go unsupervised and where the actions of ICE officials are determined to be above the law.
Any person in the United States should be treated equally and with due process. Allowing ICE agents to request the extended detention or prior notification of an individual’s release based on their own subjective decision without due process is wrong, and the system needs to be improved. It has the potential to result in second-class treatment of immigrants in our criminal justice system.
Everyone should be held accountable for their actions, but no one should be treated worse because they are an immigrant. Just like police officers are required to go through a process of establishing probable cause before taking action against a human being, federal agents should be required to do the same.
Rather than focusing on local detainer and notification policies, our efforts should be directed at creating due process nationally that can genuinely treat all human beings as equals.
Raul Peralez represents District 3, downtown, on the San José City Council. He wrote this for this newspaper.