A new bill in the California Legislature could extent “sanctuary” status to the entire state to help protect millions of undocumented immigrant adults and children from deportation.
Senate Bill 54, authored by Senate President Kevin De Leon, from Los Angeles, would prohibit local police, and sheriff departments from investigating or reporting individuals’ immigration status, leaving that work exclusively to federal agencies.
The term “sanctuary” has been used by cities and counties throughout the country that have decided not to enforce immigration laws when dealing with people detained for petty offenses, traffic infractions, or other non-violent crimes. Political leaders and law enforcement officials in those cities and counties argue that creating fear of deportation reduces the effectiveness of community policing and reporting of crimes, including robberies, rapes, and domestic abuse.
Specifically, the bill would “prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes” and also require “the Attorney General to publish model policies limiting assistance with immigration enforcement to the fullest extent possible.”
President Trump has threatened to cut funding for states, cities, and counties that pass sanctuary policies, setting up a conflict between the federal government and localities. Such funding cuts would be devastating to the state and local governments, if enacted.
“President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities,” Senator De Leon said in a statement released by his office. “Taking such irresponsible action would hurt our senior citizens, children, farmers, and veterans – these are not political games, these are real lives the President is targeting.”
For Senator De Leon, the issue of undocumented immigration hits home, literally. He has often told the story of his mother who came illegally to the US and raised De Leon in San Diego. During a hearing on his bill last month in the State Capitol Building, Senator De Leon stated that half his family could be deported under President Trump’s new deportation policy.
“Half of my family would be eligible for deportation under the executive order, because they got a false social security card, they got a false identification, they got a false driver’s license prior to us passing AB 60, they got a false green card, and anyone who has family members who are undocumented knows that almost entirely everybody has secured some sort of false identification,” Senator De Leon said during the hearing. “That’s what you need to survive, to work,” he added.
The bill has already drawn the opposition of the California State Sheriff’s Association, including Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones.
“If SB54 passes, it will allow dangerous, violent career criminals to slip through the cracks and be released back into our communities,” Sheriff Jones said at a news conference at the State Capitol. Sheriff Jones was standing next to a photo of a young man killed in a DUI accident caused by an undocumented immigrant.
Sheriff Departments throughout the state could lose millions of dollars in funding because they house undocumented immigrants in their county jails.
Other public safety officials, however, are more supportive of sanctuary policies because they don’t want the politics of undocumented immigration to complicate their public safety responsibilities. Local police chiefs and public school district and university police officials have been reluctant to join the Sheriffs in opposing De Leon’s bill. In fact, the California College and University Police Chiefs Association has supported the bill since De Leon introduced it in January.
“It is just axiomatic that if you intertwine immigration enforcement with front-line law enforcement, front-line law enforcement will suffer,” said John Lovell, the lobbyist for the association during a hearing on the bill. “Less people will come forward, and that is particularly aggravating for us in a campus situation.”
Senator De Leon has amended the bill to include language that would require the state parole board or state corrections department to give the FBI 60-days’ notice before certain undocumented inmates are released from state custody, as well as allowing Sheriff Departments to provide the FBI with the release date of undocumented immigrants in jail for a misdemeanor offense and that also had a prior violent felony conviction.
In response to De Leon’s amendments, Republican Assemblyman Jim Cooper, himself a former captain with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, became a principal co-author of the bill.
SB54 is pending before the full Senate and, if passed, would have to pass the Assembly before going to Governor Jerry Brown for his signature.