WASHINGTON -- California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has two and a half weeks to decide whether to sign the TRUST Act, a bill that would cut off some cooperation between law enforcement in his state and federal immigration authorities. As he weighs his options, supporters of the law are ramping up the pressure.
Twenty-two Democratic members of Congress from California -- including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House subcommittee dealing with immigration -- sent a letter on Thursday to Brown urging him to sign the bill into law.
"Today we join countless law enforcement leaders, mayors, and legal scholars who already have lent their support to the TRUST Act," the letter reads. "We encourage you to sign the bill that has been presented to you by the legislature and to continue California’s proud tradition of being a leader on smart and sensible policy solutions."
The TRUST Act passed the state assembly on Aug. 24, but Brown has given no indication as to whether he supports it. The bill would put limits on the impact of a key immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, by instructing law enforcement to ignore some requests from the federal government to hold immigrants suspected of being deportable.
The program is meant to net criminals for deportation -- a relatively uncontroversial idea -- but critics say it doesn't work as advertised, instead bringing in low-level and non-criminals and making the community fearful of approaching police.
"The TRUST Act is intended to restore the public’s trust in local law enforcement and to encourage community policing efforts that depend on such trust," the members of Congress wrote to Brown.
Holding people under Secure Communities, which alerts Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a deportable immigrant is found, can come at a high cost for police and sheriff's offices, another point used to argue for the TRUST Act. A report from research group Justice Strategies released Aug. 23 found that the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office held immigrants for about 20 days longer than was typical, costing the county more than $26 million per year.
Other states have attempted to go against the program, but the TRUST Act would make California the only state to successfully do so. When Illinois, Massachusetts and New York attempted in 2010 to opt-out of Secure Communities, they were told they could not. The District of Columbia, Santa Clara, Calif., and Cook County, Ill., have made the most significant strides in limiting participation with Secure Communities by passing measures similar to the TRUST Act.
The members of Congress are the latest voices in a chorus calling for Brown to sign the TRUST Act, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, sheriffs in Santa Clara and Yolo Counties and police chiefs in the cities of Oakland, Palo Alto and East Palo Alto.
There is also opposition from within the ranks of law enforcement, however. The California State Sheriff's Association opposes the bill, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said he would ignore the law, if signed, and continue to hold immigrants based on requests from ICE.
"We are forcefully pushing for a veto," Nick Warner, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, told The New York Times in August. "The sheriffs of this state are actively, unalterably and vehemently opposed."
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>