State Sen. Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, announced this week he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment aimed at “weeding out” undocumented immigrants convicted of violent felonies.
A press release from Berryhill’s office stated the legislation would require the California Department of Justice to send the records of everyone serving time in prison for a violent felony to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, so those who are in the country illegally could be identified and deported upon their release.
“Immigration remains an unresolved issue in California — one worthy of a robust debate,” Berryhill stated in the press release. “But we should start where we agree: Violent felons should not be allowed to remain in our neighborhoods.”
Berryhill could not be reached for comment Friday.
The measure would also prevent any undocumented person from receiving aid through state-funded assistance programs if they’ve been convicted of committing any of the state’s 23 violent crimes, such as murder, rape and robbery.
“The vast majority of undocumented immigrants are not criminals,” Berryhill stated in the press release. “But it only takes one person, one crime, to destroy a family — so one is too many.”
Representatives from the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and Sonora Police Department did not return requests for information on the number of violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in the area.
Berryhill’s proposal comes at a time when the state appears to be gearing up for a showdown with the new Trump administration over its plans to ramp up deportations of undocumented immigrants and crackdown on sanctuary cities.
Sasha Farkas, who represents Tuolumne and Stanislaus counties on the California Farm Bureau Federation Board of Directors, said he didn’t think anyone would argue against deporting violent criminals, but farmers and ranchers are concerned about other changes to enforcement because many depend on immigrant workers.
“We know that there is a chance that many of these people are undocumented workers using potentially fake documentation,” Farkas said.
Despite using fake documentation, Farkas said something that many people don’t understand is that the workers pay taxes on their income for benefits like Social Security that they may never be able to claim.
Farkas said the bureau has previously supported comprehensive immigration reform that would include a path to citizenship for workers in the country illegally, or a guest-worker program that’s less cumbersome than the one currently in place.
Recent news reports about possible plans for mass deportations has many workers fearful, Farkas said.
“They’re scared to send their kids to school, scared to leave their house and scared to go to work,” Farkas said. “They’re not following all of the laws, obviously, because they are here illegally. However, that might be the only law they’ve broken.
“Other than that, they are good people in the community, and they’re just scared now.”