A US sheriff is all but blaming a California’s “sanctuary law” that protects undocumented workers for the killing of a policeman allegedly gunned down by an illegal immigrant.
Gustavo Perez Arriaga was arrested on Friday after a two-day statewide manhunt, coming out with his hands up as a SWAT team prepared to raid a home in Bakersfield, California.
That’s about 320 km southeast of where Cpl Ronil Singh was shot before dawn on Wednesday after stopping a suspected drunken driver.
Mortally wounded, he fired back but missed, authorities have said.
Perez Arriaga had been preparing to flee to Mexico and was taken into custody using the slain officer’s handcuffs, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson, who led the investigation, blamed California’s sanctuary law for preventing local authorities from reporting Perez Arriaga to US immigration officials for deportation after two previous drunken driving arrests.
“We can’t ignore the fact that this could have been preventable,” Christianson told reporters, asking why the state was “providing sanctuary for criminals (and) gang members. It’s a conversation we need to have.”
Christianson called for stricter laws at a news conference as Singh’s brother wept beside him.
Perez Arriaga crossed the border in Arizona several years ago and had worked a variety of jobs as a labourer, including at several dairies.
The 33-year-old Mexico native had gang affiliations and multiple Facebook pages with different names, Christianson said.
The shooting came amid an intense political fight over immigration, with President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats at odds over funding for a border wall that has forced a partial government shutdown.
Trump tweeted about Singh’s killing on Thursday, saying it was “time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!”
California’s sanctuary law limits cooperation between local authorities and US immigration officials and has drawn scorn from the Trump administration.
It includes more than 800 exceptions for violent crimes and felonies and bars police from asking people about their citizenship status.
Governor Jerry Brown has said the law strikes a balance between protecting families and ensuring consequences for serious criminals.
His spokesman said on Friday that if the suspect was a known gang member, police could have provided that information to federal authorities.
“California law fully permits the sharing of information on dangerous gang members,” spokesman Evan Westrup said.
A federal judge upheld the law earlier this year after a challenge by the Trump administration.
Former state Senator Kevin de Leon, the Democrat who wrote the legislation, said the sheriff was politicising a tragedy.
Authorities also arrested five other people for allegedly helping Perez Arriaga, including two who were in the country illegally.
Singh was an immigrant, too, arriving legally from his native Fiji to fulfil his dream of becoming a police officer, authorities said.
Newman Police Chief Randy Richardson called the 33-year-old a patriot.
“This is a man that loved his country. This is a man that worked hard for what he believed in. He believed in this community,” he said at a community vigil on Friday night.
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