County lawyers are looking into a conflict between the governor's administration and the Kern County Sheriff's Office over a law designed to prevent illegal immigrants from being deported for minor offenses.
The Kern County Counsel's office confirmed it was doing some research on the dispute, but had no further comment.
Signed into law in October, the Trust Act creates a statewide standard for compliance with the federal Secure Communities program, which mandates immigration checks for anyone who is arrested.
If U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement wants a suspect, law enforcement officers can hold the suspect for 48 hours after their scheduled release to give immigration officers time to pick up the inmate. The state law says that people accused of minor, nonviolent crimes need not be held in jail longer than they would ordinarily because of a voluntary hold request, or detainer, from ICE.
The Trust Act is one of several state laws enacted last year that aid people in the country illegally, including allowing them to obtain driver's licenses. Brown said they marked California "forging ahead" on immigration reform while federal changes stall.
Since the Trust Act took effect on Jan. 1, there have been two local inmates accused of minor crimes who were subject to a hold request from ICE, according to the Kern County Sheriff's Office.
One inmate was released on time after deputies checked with ICE and federal agents said it was OK to let the inmate go.
Another person eligible for the hold was still in custody as of Friday, but the inmate is likely to be released some time in the next few days with ICE's blessing.
Still, if ICE ever asks the department to detain an inmate, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he will honor that request.
"I don't know what they want them for," the sheriff said. "It could be they've committed a crime in another country, or they could have terrorist ties. I just don't know, and they may not want to tell me if there's an ongoing investigation. I understand that."
California Gov. Jerry Brown.spoke with Youngblood about the implementation of the Trust Act when he was in Bakersfield last week as part of a statewide tour to promote a budget proposal.
"I would say he's obligated to follow state law, but I would like to hear what he has to say," the governor said when asked about the issue at a news conference Tuesday.
Youngblood and the governor later chatted by phone. The sheriff characterized the conversation as positive even if the two sides continue to disagree.
"Public safety comes first for me, and that definitely is a public safety issue," the sheriff said in an interview Thursday.
The governor's press office declined to discuss the disagreement other than to say that when there is a dispute regarding the interpretation of a state law, it's up to the courts to resolve it.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which pushed for passage of the Trust Act, is siding with the governor.
"We don't believe that the sheriff has the discretion to violate state law," said ACLU of Southern California staff attorney Michael Kaufman.
A spokeswoman for ICE issued a statement: "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will continue to work cooperatively with law enforcement partners throughout the state of California as the agency seeks to enforce its priorities through the identification and removal of convicted criminals, public safety threats, or other priorities.
"The federal government alone sets these priorities and places detainers on a variety of individuals, including those arrested on criminal charges, to ensure that dangerous criminal aliens and other priority individuals are not released from prisons and jails into our communities."