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California's TRUST Act Would Advance Social Justice, Uphold Core Religious Ideals

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Co-authored by Bishop Marc Andrus, Rabbi Sharon Brous and Bishop Mark W. Holmerud

Every week, in diverse congregations across California, pastors face a painful task: consoling the children and relatives of aspiring citizens who have been ripped away from their families by deportation.

Every day, immigrant members of our communities arrested for the most minor or mistaken of reasons find themselves cruelly trapped in local jails for long periods of time and then transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Such practices carry a tremendous cost -- to our resources, to our public safety, and to our most basic values.

Our faith compels us to call for solutions.

And the long shadow cast by neighboring Arizona's discriminatory immigration law, a harmful part of which went into effect this week, only highlights the need for transformative action.

That is why we are asking for Governor Jerry Brown to sign a bill called the TRUST Act into law.

Our religious traditions call upon us to recognize the humanity and equality of all people. The importance of fairness is enshrined in the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Yet inhumane detentions of immigrants in local jails have put those values at risk. The TRUST Act would uphold these core principles.

The heart of the problem is a misnamed deportation program called "Secure" Communities that has troubling parallels to Arizona's law.

Originally intended to focus on those with serious convictions, the program automatically crosschecks fingerprints of every individual arrested - citizen or non-citizen - through an immigration database. If there is a match in the database, which may be flawed, ICE then asks localities to detain an individual for extra time at local expense, so they can be picked up for deportation.

Since its inception, "Secure" Communities has led to the deportation of some 80,000 California residents--more than any other state. Nearly 70% of these people either had minor offenses or no convictions at all.

And even US citizens have been improperly held in local jails under the program.

We have heard from both documented and undocumented immigrant congregants who are victims or witnesses to a crime. They now fear cooperating with police since even an erroneous arrest can become a nightmare of detention and potential deportation - even after the charges are dropped.

The damage to the common good also encompasses the cost to local resources. A recent estimated that LA County alone spends an estimated $26 million per year to hold immigrants for extra time due to ICE "detainer" or hold requests, and those with detainers are on average held 20.6 extra days in county custody.

It is incumbent upon California to take action.

The TRUST Act is a balanced solution to limit unfair, costly detentions for deportation purposes of people who would otherwise be released. Under the bill, holds would only be allowed for those convicted or charged by the District Attorney with serious or violent felonies.

This will save local resources, rebuild relationships between immigrant communities and local police, and also push our nation towards more inclusive and humanitarian immigration policies.

To be sure, some will ask: since immigration is a federal responsibility, how can a state take action?

We defer to the opinion of over 30 leading law professors, including the Deans of UC Berkeley and UC Irvine's law schools, who in a recent letter stated in the clearest terms that ICE's hold requests are absolutely not orders with the force of law, but rather optional requests.

These experts confirm it is entirely within the purview of our state to limit how we respond to these costly requests.

And we believe it is a moral imperative to do so.