For the first time, federal immigration authorities Friday served subpoenas on a local law enforcement agency in California -- the San Diego County Sheriff's Department -- in a bid to compel it to release migrant-arrest information protected by sanctuary state legislation.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials took the unusual step because state law prevents the department from honoring immigration "detainers" -- holds on people living in the country illegally in local custody -- and "prohibits it from granting requests for non-public information to assist in locating criminal aliens that have been or will be released from custody," according to an ICE statement.

"If able to, the department will comply with the lawful requests in a timely manner," said Lt. Ricardo Lopez, media relations director for the sheriff's department.

According to ICE, most of the nation's local law enforcement agencies willingly provide federal immigration officials with information about people arrested on suspicion of criminal offenses who are living in the country without authorization.

Such cooperation is not readily available in jurisdictions that have passed immigrant sanctuary laws, as California did in 2017.

"Criminal aliens are being released back into the community daily, and most will reoffend, resulting in more victims," said Gregory Archambeault, San Diego Field Office Director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations.

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"For ICE, the most concerning part about dealing with uncooperative jurisdictions or places that are not allowed to work with us is that we don't always know who is being arrested, when they'll be released or if they are at large in the community again."

The papers served on the sheriff's department, according to ICE, seek information about the following Mexican nationals living in the U.S. without authorization whose names were withheld:

-- A 40-year-old man who was arrested in December by the San Diego Police Department on suspicion of sexual abuse of a child under age 14. The suspect has two DUI convictions and has been returned to Mexico on 11 occasions between 2009 and 2011. He remains in county jail.

-- A 42-year-old man who was arrested for on suspicion of robbery by the SDPD in November. He has a prior conviction for possession of methamphetamine from 2013. A federal immigration judge granted him voluntary departure, but he failed to leave the United States. An immigration detainer was filed, but, due to the state sanctuary statute, he was released from custody.

-- A 31-year-old man who was arrested in December by the SDPD for suspicion of battery of his spouse and false imprisonment. He has a prior conviction for possessing false government identification. He was deported three times between 2008 and 2010. Though ICE lodged an immigration detainer, he was released.

-- A 28-year-old man who was arrested by the SDPD last month for suspicion of assault with force, great bodily injury, child cruelty and battery of his spouse. He was also arrested for spousal battery in 2017 and has been deported repeatedly. An immigration detainer has been filed in his case, and he remains in custody.

Since January, ICE has issued similar subpoenas in Connecticut, Denver and New York.

Should any of the served law enforcement agencies neglect or refuse to respond to the writs, an immigration officer may seek a U.S. District Court order requiring compliance, according to the federal immigration agency. 

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