The federal government should start enforcing immigration laws–or write new ones, he said. He criticized President Obama’s new deportation policies, which say most immigrants who have not committed serious crimes and have fewer than three minor crimes on their records should not be priorities for removal.
“You’re in this country illegally and we’re going to give you three bites of the apple? That’s three victims!” Youngblood said. “If you commit crimes, you oughta go.”
Youngblood’s defiant views have made him a rare voice of dissent in what has become the nation’s most welcoming state for people in the country illegally.
At a time when the Democrat-controlled Legislature has moved to allow such immigrants to drive, practice law and pay in-state college tuition–passing 26 immigrant-friendly laws last year alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures–Youngblood is an outlier.
He has largely refused to sign paperwork that immigrant crime victims need to apply for U visas, which allow some victims to stay in the country lawfully. As president of the Major County Sheriffs’ Assn., a national advocacy group, he has asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to share data with police so patrol officers can determine whether the person they stop may be in the country illegally.
Youngblood said his department began following the Trust Act last year on the advice of county attorneys. But he said he reserves the right to violate it.
“If ICE calls me and says, ‘You have someone there who has committed this heinous crime, and we really need you to hold them,’ I’m probably going to hold them,” he said.
Youngblood’s approach has been celebrated by those who believe, as he does, that Obama has been too lax on immigration enforcement.
And it has made him the target of activists who accuse him of setting his own immigration policy and of sowing fear among the estimated 66,000 immigrants in this rural county illegally.
“People are scared,” said Lorena Lara, an immigrant who was brought to the country illegally by her farmworker father and who now works for a community organizing group called Faith in Action Kern County. “They’re afraid to call the police because they think they might be deported.”
The majority of Kern County residents are Latino, but it wasn’t until the 1990s that a Latino was elected to the Bakersfield City Council or the Kern County Board of Supervisors. (Political scientists point out that Latinos make up only about a third of registered voters and tend to turn out for elections at much lower rates than their white counterparts.)
Youngblood says his views are in line with the conservative voters who have put him in office three times since 2006. Their ideas about immigration and government couldn’t be more different than the electorate in Los Angeles, he added, even though Kern borders Los Angeles County.
“We are right-of-the-center on things,” he said. “I always say Kern is a county that ought to be in Arizona.”
Tensions between law enforcement and immigrant laborers in this community go back decades, said Gonzalo Santos, a sociologist at Cal State Bakersfield. In the 1930s, sheriff’s officials deputized farm owners so they could use their badges to shut down labor protests, Santos said. Some farmworkers were killed.
Now the department is intervening in immigration matters, said Santos, who called Youngblood “a rogue sheriff.”
Youngblood argues that Brown and the Legislature were interfering when they passed the Trust Act. Conflicting state and federal mandates put sheriffs like him “in the crosshairs,” he said.
“It’s unfair, because the law is so unclear,” Youngblood said. “Really what we’re looking for is clear law, clear direction.”