MODESTO (KPIX 5) -- The arrest of an undocumented immigrant from Mexico accused of killing a Northern California police officer has stoked the debate over sanctuary laws and illegal immigration.
The man police believe shot and killed Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh was arrested by Kern County Sheriff's deputies Friday morning at a house near Bakersfield. Suspect Gustavo Perez Arriaga, 32 - an alleged Sureño gang member - has been transferred to the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department.
A special effort was made to ensure that Singh's handcuffs were used to restrain Arriaga.
According to Stanislaus County Adam Sheriff Christianson, Arriaga was planning to escape back to Mexico. Two men who lied to the police about Arriaga's whereabouts were also arrested Friday; his brother Adrian Virgen, 25, and a co-worker, Erik Razo Quiroz, 35.
All three men arrested Friday are in the country illegally, according to Christianson. The Madera County Superior Court confirms that Arriaga was arrested twice for DUIs – one on August 14, 2011 and one on June 5, 2014. He failed to show up for a hearing after the 2014 arrest, so he has an outstanding bench warrant.
"This is a criminal illegal alien with prior criminal activity that should have been reported to ICE," said Christianson at a press conference announcing Arriaga's arrest. "Under SB 54 in California, based on two arrests for DUI and some other active warrants that this criminal has out there, law enforcement would have been prevented, prohibited from sharing any information with ICE about this criminal gang member."
Christianson has been an outspoken critic of sanctuary policies and sat next to President Donald Trump during a White House meeting on immigration and sanctuary laws earlier this year.
California's sanctuary law, SB 54 took effect this year, so it would not have stopped law enforcement from cooperating with immigration officials in 2011 and 2014, when Arriaga was arrested. KPIX 5 reached out to ICE to see if a detainer request for Arriaga was ever made, but did not hear back, and may not hear back until after the government shutdown.
As an initial matter, any time a person is arrested and fingerprinted, the information is shared with the FBI, who shares it with ICE. California's sanctuary law does not change that process. It does, however, prohibit sharing additional information such as release date, home address or employer, unless the information is already public. Further, local police cannot cooperate if ICE requests that an inmate be detained so they can come take them into custody.
There are limited exceptions to SB 54 for people convicted - not just arrested - of serious, violent felonies, but a DUI would not qualify. In other words, if Arriaga were arrested for a DUI today, the sanctuary restrictions on communicating with or cooperating with ICE would apply.
"The last thing in the world I want to do is politicize the death of officer Singh," said Christianson. "But let's go back to Ron. An immigrant. Emigrated here lawfully and legally to pursue his American dream. He achieved that goal. And his dream was taken from him. No, we shouldn't politicize it, but we have to have a conversation about restrictive legislation that puts our communities at risk."
As he spoke, Reggie Singh, younger brother of Cpl. Singh, wept and had to leave the room.
for more features.