State set to be­come a ‘sanc­tu­ary’

De­fy­ing Trump, Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers ap­prove far-reach­ing mea­sure aimed at pro­tect­ing im­mi­grants.


SACRAMENTO — Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers on Satur­day passed a “sanc­tu­ary state” bill to pro­tect im­mi­grants with­out le­gal res­i­dency in the U.S., part of a broader push by Democrats to counter ex­panded de­por­ta­tion or­ders un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The leg­is­la­tion by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los An­ge­les), the most far-reach­ing of its kind in the coun­try, would limit state and lo­cal law en­force­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tion with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties, and pre­vent of­fi­cers from ques­tion­ing and hold­ing peo­ple on im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions.

Af­ter pas­sion­ate de­bate in both houses of the Leg­is­la­ture, staunch op­po­si­tion from Repub­li­can sher­iffs and threats from Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials against sanc­tu­ary cities, Se­nate Bill 54 was ap­proved Satur­day by a 27-11 vote along party lines. But the bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown dras­ti­cally scaled back the ver­sion first in­tro­duced, the re­sult of tough ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Brown and De León in the fi­nal weeks of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The de­ci­sion came hours af­ter a fed­eral judge in Chicago blocked the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s move to with­hold Jus­tice De­part­ment grant funds to dis­cour­age so-called sanc­tu­ary city poli­cies.

On the Se­nate floor min­utes be­fore 2 a.m. on Satur­day, De León said the changes were rea­son­able and re­flected a pow­er­ful com­pro­mise be­tween law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and ad­vo­cates.

“Th­ese amend­ments do not mean to erode the core mis­sion of this mea­sure, which is to pro­tect hard­work­ing fam­i­lies that have con­trib­uted greatly to our cul­ture and the econ­omy,” he said. “This is a mea­sure that re­flects the val­ues of who we are as a great state.”

Of­fi­cially dubbed the Cal­i­for­nia Val­ues Act, the leg­is­la­tion ini­tially would have pro­hib­ited state and lo­cal law en­force­ment agen­cies

from us­ing any re­sources to hold or ques­tion peo­ple or share in­for­ma­tion about them with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion agents un­less they had vi­o­lent or se­ri­ous crim­i­nal con­vic­tions.

Af­ter talks with Brown, amend­ments to the bill made last week would al­low fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties to keep work­ing with state cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials and to con­tinue en­ter­ing county jails to ques­tion im­mi­grants. The leg­is­la­tion would also per­mit po­lice and sher­iffs to share in­for­ma­tion and trans­fer peo­ple to im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties if they have been con­victed of one or more crimes from a list of 800 out­lined in a pre­vi­ous law, the Cal­i­for­nia Trust Act.

Some im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates, who were pre­vi­ously dis­ap­pointed with the list of of­fenses un­der the Trust Act, were dis­mayed to see the same ex­cep­tions ap­plied in the so-called sanc­tu­ary state bill. The list in­cludes many vi­o­lent and se­ri­ous crimes, as well as some non­vi­o­lent charges and “wob­blers,” of­fenses that can be charged as a felony or mis­de­meanor, which ad­vo­cates said has the po­ten­tial to en­snare peo­ple who do not pose a dan­ger to the public.

But im­mi­grant rights groups did not with­draw their sup­port for Se­nate Bill 54 and also won some con­ces­sions. Un­der the ad­di­tions to the bill, the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions and Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion would have to de­velop new stan­dards to pro­tect peo­ple held on im­mi­gra­tion vi­o­la­tions, and to al­low im­mi­grant in­mates to re­ceive cred­its to­ward their sen­tences served if they un­dergo re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams while in­car­cer­ated.

The state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice would have to de­velop rec­om­men­da­tions that limit im­mi­gra­tion agents’ ac­cess to per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. The at­tor­ney gen­eral also has broad author­ity un­der the state Con­sti­tu­tion to en­sure that po­lice and sher­iffs agen­cies fol­low SB 54’s pro­vi­sions should it be signed into law.

“This was a hard-fought ef­fort, but the end prod­uct was worth the fight,” Jen­nie Pasquarella, im­mi­grants’ rights di­rec­tor with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union of Cal­i­for­nia, said in a state­ment Satur­day.

The com­pro­mise helped draw sup­port for the bill from Assem­bly Speaker An­thony Ren­don (D-Para­mount), and moved the Cal­i­for­nia Po­lice Chiefs Assn.’s of­fi­cial po­si­tion from op­posed to neu­tral. The Cal­i­for­nia Sher­iffs Assn. re­mained op­posed.

In a state­ment Satur­day, Thomas Ho­man, act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, said Cal­i­for­nia politi­cians had “cho­sen to pri­or­i­tize pol­i­tics over public safety.”

“This bill se­verely un­der­mines that ef­fort and will make Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties less safe,” said Ho­man, who hosted a March town hall with Repub­li­can Sacramento County Sher­iff Scott Jones on im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment that erupted in protests.

In their re­spec­tive cham­bers Fri­day, at least 20 mem­bers of the Assem­bly and six mem­bers of the Se­nate took the floor for de­bate on the bill, voic­ing com­plex stances on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, fed­er­al­ism and the di­ver­sity of fam­i­lies in Cal­i­for­nia.

Assem­bly­man Steven Choi (R-Irvine), a first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant from South Korea, said that he came to the U.S. legally and that the bill cre­ated “chaos” for a coun­try built on law and or­der.

Oth­ers pointed to the op­po­si­tion from sher­iffs or­ga­ni­za­tions, say­ing the bill would tie of­fi­cers’ hands, al­low­ing se­rial thieves, chronic drug abusers and gang mem­bers to slip through the cracks. Sup­port­ers coun­tered the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion was try­ing to paint all im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally as crim­i­nals.

They pointed to pro­vi­sions in the bill that would make hos­pi­tals, schools and court­houses safe zones for im­mi­grants from fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties at a time of fear for some com­mu­ni­ties.

“We are iron­i­cally end­ing this ses­sion the way we started, talk­ing about pro­tect­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble among us,” Sen. Ri­cardo Lara (D-Bell Gar­dens) said.

De León in­tro­duced SB 54 on what was an un­usu­ally ac­ri­mo­nious first day of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, as law­mak­ers in both cham­bers were locked in bit­ter de­bate over the still newly elected Pres­i­dent Trump.

It was at the cen­ter of a leg­isla­tive pack­age filed by Democrats in an at­tempt to pro­tect more than 2.3 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing in the state il­le­gally. Other leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als and bud­get deals have ex­panded work­place pro­tec­tions against raids from U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment, and in­creased le­gal de­fense ser­vices for im­mi­grants fac­ing de­por­ta­tion and fi­nan­cial aid for stu­dents with­out le­gal res­i­dency.

Se­nate Bill 54 re­ceived na­tional at­ten­tion as the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice pledged to slash gov­ern­ment grants for law en­force­ment from any so-called sanc­tu­ary cities, which limit the col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween lo­cal and fed­eral author­i­ties on im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment.

In a state­ment Satur­day, Jus­tice De­part­ment spokesman Devin O’Mal­ley said “state law­mak­ers in­ex­pli­ca­bly voted to­day to re­turn crim­i­nal aliens back onto our streets.”

“This aban­don­ment of the rule of law by the Leg­is­la­ture con­tin­ues to put Cal­i­for­ni­ans at risk, and un­der­mines na­tional se­cu­rity and law en­force­ment,” he said.

At the re­quest of the Cal­i­for­nia Se­nate this year, former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. re­viewed the bill and said it passed con­sti­tu­tional muster, adding that the states “have the power over the health and safety of their res­i­dents and al­lo­ca­tion of state re­sources.”

Still, de­bate raged on and divided even law en­force­ment of­fi­cials and as­so­ci­a­tions. In Los An­ge­les, Po­lice Chief Char­lie Beck voiced his sup­port, while L.A. County Sher­iff Jim McDon­nell was a vo­cal op­po­nent.

In a state­ment Satur­day, McDon­nell said the fi­nal ver­sion of the bill was not per­fect, but “re­flects much of what the LASD im­ple­mented years ago and the work is well un­der­way.”

On Fri­day, law­mak­ers said some chil­dren with­out le­gal sta­tus were too afraid to go to school, while po­lice sta­tis­tics showed a drop in re­ports of sex­ual as­sault and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence as im­mi­grant vic­tims re­fused to come for­ward.

Assem­bly­woman Cristina Gar­cia (D-Bell Gar­dens) said the era was rem­i­nis­cent of the 1980s, when her fa­ther dreaded im­mi­gra­tion raids.

“We are not liv­ing in a hy­po­thet­i­cal fear,” she said. “That fear is a re­al­ity.”


AF­TER PAS­SION­ATE de­bate, law­mak­ers ap­proved Se­nate Bill 54 by a 27-11 vote. The bill had been dras­ti­cally scaled back in the fi­nal weeks of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

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