Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown and other police officials met with community members last night to discuss the misconceptions and local impacts of the nationally disputed Secure Communities deportation program.
PUEBLO, a local nonprofit that supports low-income residents through education and civic participation, hosted the forum to allow residents to voice their concerns on S-Comm’s effects on the Latino residents of Santa Barbara. The national program was launched in 2008 to seek out “serious criminal offenders” — those who are in the country unlawfully or have committed prior crimes — for deportation.
However, statistics from Immigration and Customs Enforcement show that 70 percent of the Californians deported as a result of the program — 32,900 of the 47,000 — are low-level or presumed innocent offenders.
According to Brown, this statistic contrasts with the initial goal of the program, which he said was to target and remove high-level offenders from the country.
“The stated priorities of the S-Comm program are to identify and target criminal aliens,” Brown said. “[It is] not for people who have come into the country illegally, but those who have come in and committed crimes.”
Despite these priorities, UCSB alumnus and PUEBLO Board of Directors Secretary Greg Prieto said the enforcement of S-Comm often results in the deportation of low-level offenders.
“The trouble is that [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] says the program will target the worst of the worst, but their own statistics have revealed otherwise,” Prieto said. “It’s moved away from its goal and this has had a major impact on our community.”
Edna Trujillo, a Santa Barbara resident of 26 years, said her son was wrongly searched and questioned by 15 uniformed police officers this past month. According to Trujillo, the officers wrongly believed her son to be associated with an offender by the name of “Hugo,” which she said shows the lack of trust between law enforcement and residents that jeopardizes the emotional well-being of Santa Barbara’s Hispanic residents.
“I realized that, if my son wasn’t able to produce the proper identification at the time, they would have assumed my son was associated with Hugo,” Trujillo said. “I’m worried others might have similar experiences and their safety and security might be revoked.”
In response, Brown said despite deputies’ best efforts to treat all citizens equally, even law enforcement officers can make mistakes.
“All I can say is that sometimes we don’t get it right,” Brown said. “We’re from the human race and even though the professional ideal bar is set high, sometimes there will be an off day that is less than professional or less than pleasant — but I would suggest you should be more angry at Hugo than you are with the police.”
According to Brown, S-Comm as a whole has played an integral part in helping keep our community and the United States safe from criminal aliens.
“We can do no better service to our country than to make sure we protect it,” Brown said. “The fact we haven’t had a terrorist attack in 10 years is a testament to those people who have been working to keep us safe and have done just that.”
The program is being debated nationwide and has been the subject of recent protests in both Los Angeles and Virginia. PUEBLO Executive Director Mark Alvarado said last night’s forum was crucial to bridge the gap between law enforcement and Santa Barbara residents regarding the controversial program.
“I believe in the importance of having this forum for people impacted by the Secure Communities program and the community in general … there are a lot of misinterpretations and misunderstandings out there in the field,” Alvarado said. “It’s very important to have this kind of public dialogue; without this, there would be more mistrust.”