Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Orange County officials expressed concern Monday at a state Senate bill that would prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with Homeland Security in the deportation of people living in the country illegally could cost the county millions of dollars in annual revenue.

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she is concerned the bill from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will imperil the county’s “beds for feds” program, which provides space in the county’s jails for immigration detainees.

The program came as a godsend to Hutchens when she was wrangling with a dwindling budget as a result of the Great Recession.

From its inception in August 2010 through the following June, the federal government paid $26.9 million to house immigration detainees in county jails.

In Fiscal Year 2011-12, the county billed the feds $33.3 million. In the following fiscal year, the program billed Immigration and Customs Enforcement $29.5 million.

In Fiscal Year 2014-15, ICE was billed $22.8 million, and in the last fiscal year the program cost the federal government $31.3 million.

Messages left with de Leon’s office for comment were not immediately returned.

On Friday, he said enlisting local law enforcement to help ICE carry out deportations increases the danger to communities.

“When local police are deputized to enforce immigration laws our communities become more — not less — dangerous,” de Leon said. “Our limited law-enforcement resources are squandered when police officers are pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding maids, students, busboys and day laborers for immigration violations. Undocumented residents will not report crimes for fear of deportation and criminals will roam free to victimize others.”

Sen. Patricia Bates, R-Laguna Niguel, criticized what she characterized as “sanctuary state” legislation following the Senate Appropriations Committee’s 5-2 vote in favor of de Leon’s bill on Monday. Bates is vice chair of the committee.

“As a descendant of immigrants, I have compassion for undocumented immigrants who want to make a better life for themselves and their families,” Bates said. “That is why the federal government must address the nation’s broken immigration system. However, SB 54 would make it more difficult for the federal government to deport those who truly pose a danger to all Californians.”

Bates added that even taking into consideration proposed amendments, the bill “severely limits communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, which could lead to the release of some dangerous individuals. Furthermore, SB 54 threatens millions in funding to counties that lease space to the federal government for detainees.”

She said the legislation could cost the county $22 million annually, possibly leading to layoffs at the sheriff’s department.

Jaimee Blashaw, a spokeswoman for the sheriff, said assurances have been made by the bill’s authors to not let it affect the county’s contract with ICE, “but we don’t think that is clear. We feel that the bill needs specific language that states our contracts would not be impacted.”

— City News Service

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