EDITORIAL HOLD ON, SHERIFF BACA, LIKE BECK, GOES TOO FAR BY TAKING LAWMAKERS' ROLE IN SETTING IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT POLICY ; Baca, like Beck, Goes Too Far by Taking Lawmakers' Role in Setting Immigration Enforcement Policy

Article excerpt

THE immigration-policy mess has once again subverted traditional civics lessons. The way most of us learned the process, lawmakers make laws and law enforcement enforces them. But some top cops have other ideas, the latest being Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Following L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck into a political fight, Baca announced last week that his department plans to stop turning over to federal authorities some of the illegal immigrants it arrests for unrelated "low-level" crimes.

The announcement came a day after California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a new state guideline telling law-enforcement agencies it's up to them whether to participate in the federal Secure Communities Program, under which suspected illegal immigrants' fingerprints are given to U.S. agents.

In one respect, Baca's move is less bothersome than Beck's: At least Baca is an elected official, not an appointed one like the LAPD chief. Baca is directly responsible to voters. If they disagree with his policies, they can decline to re-elect him; this recent policy reversal likely would be an issue, along with the allegations of prisoner abuse by L.A. County deputies, if Baca ran again in 2014.

But the principle remains: Policies pertaining to issues as big as illegal immigration should be the products of debate by elected legislators instead of decrees from individual law-enforcement agencies.

In fact, such a debate is going on in Sacramento. A bill just introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano would prevent California cops from honoring federal immigration agents' detention requests unless the arrestees have been convicted of serious or violent offenses. The San Francisco Democrat's bill revives the principles of the so- called Trust Act legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed in October, saying it was too broad. …