Submitted by the San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
At the first meeting of the San Juan County Council in 2017, the County’s top law enforcement officers and the Council members talked about immigrants in the community without proper papers or who have overstayed their visa.
Council Member Jamie Stephens kicked off the discussion by saying, “Our immigrant residents are valued contributors to our community and the local economy. We feel that it is necessary at this time to reaffirm existing policies on protecting immigrants’ access to police protection and public services.”
Stephens added that after talking to the Sheriff and Prosecuting Attorney he realized that San Juan County officials were already doing what many other communities hoped to do.
Sheriff Ron Krebs said that immigrants are treated like anyone else until they commit a serious offense. “The Sheriff’s Office has no special procedures for immigrants who commit minor offenses such as traffic infractions and misdemeanors,” said Sheriff Ron Krebs.
But serious offenders, of which there have only been a few, are usually picked up by Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement and are sometimes returned to their home country. Sheriff Krebs said that the federal immigration laws help protect the community from drug offenders, sex offenders or violent people.
Sheriff Krebs added that this policy assures that the people in this community are safe. He added that he hopes that the immigrant community considers the Sheriff deputies to be people with integrity and who have their safety in mind. “We want immigrants to report crime to our office. It benefits them and it benefits the rest of the community.”
Prosecutor Randall Gaylord said the Sheriff’s policy was developed after a federal court ruled that a temporary hold of immigrants without a warrant was illegal. “The fact is we can’t hold immigrants on minor offenses until ICE officers arrive in town with a warrant, and we don’t do that.”
Gaylord also said that “the justice system requires that we have policies where crime victims, regardless of immigration status, feel safe to talk about crimes against them. If that doesn’t happen, immigrants will be vulnerable and preyed upon for fear of deportation, which is wrong.”
Gaylord observed that generally speaking, immigrants are law abiding.
Gaylord added that after the 2016 General Election, word spread quickly to his office that a change in the office of president is creating fear in the immigrant community that families will be ripped apart by detentions of some family members. Gaylord said that his office, like the Sheriff’s Office, is independent of the federal immigration offices and does not have any agreements to provide assistance in detaining or deporting immigrants.
Gaylord said he thought these policies were similar in many parts of the western states and this has led to the “sanctuary” label mentioned in Seattle and Los Angeles. Gaylord said that he agreed with the mayors of those cities that the sanctuary label is not based on any legal principle. He said the policies are respectful of immigrants and are sensible and helpful to the communities and implemented here too.
Council Member Rick Hughes added that he wanted to see a continuation of these policies. Hughes said he wanted immigrants in the community to feel that the county government is not going out of its way to make things difficult.
Council Member Bill Watson expressed it was good to hear what was actually happening here in this community.