California Legislature Advances 'Sanctuary State' Bill

“We will not stand by and let the federal government use our state and local agencies to separate mothers from their children.”

The California State Legislature passed a “sanctuary state” bill on Saturday that would limit state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials. 

The legislation, authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, is a direct response to President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies, specifically his executive order targeting federal funding for localities with pro-immigrant policies. That order was blocked from going into effect by a federal judge, but the administration has since attempted to target sanctuary cities in other ways, such as Attorney General Jeff Sessions block on funding for cities fighting violent crime. 

Senate Bill 54, if signed into law, would block local law enforcement (including school police) from “using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.” Those purposes include inquiring into someone’s immigration status, detaining people at federal immigration officials’ request or making arrests on immigration warrants.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of National Day Laborer Organizing Network, called Saturday’s vote “a victory for millions of immigrant families who are fighting for equality.”

“The unprecedented scapegoating of immigrants in recent years has imperiled public safety, threatened civil rights, and divided our communities,” Alvarado said in a statement. “However, today California again proved that local governments are not powerless when it comes to confronting the danger posed by the Trump Administration.”

The legislation was amended earlier this week after de León reached an agreement with Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) on several key provisions. The amended version of the bill somewhat loosens the initial version’s restrictions on interactions between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials, easing some concerns Brown had about the legislation. 

Most notably, the bill now allows sheriffs to pass on information to federal officials about individuals in their custody who have been convicted of one of roughly 800 crimes specified in the legislation. It also allows immigration officials to interview individuals in custody, but bars those officials from having permanent office space in jails or state prisons. 

The bill was part of a wave of immigration legislation authored by California lawmakers in the wake of Trump’s election in a preemptive attempt to “resist” the president’s crackdown on immigration. Other efforts included establishing workplace protections for undocumented immigrants, starting a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation and blocking landlords from using tenants’ immigration status against them. 

“To the millions of undocumented residents pursuing and contributing to the California Dream, the State of California will be your wall of justice should the incoming Administration adopt an inhumane and over-reaching mass-deportation policy,” de León said upon introducing the bill, also known as the California Values Act, in December. “We will not stand by and let the federal government use our state and local agencies to separate mothers from their children.”

The bill now heads to Brown’s desk. The Democratic governor previously expressed reservations over the state Senate’s version of the bill, advocating for the revisions.

“The goal here is to block and not to collaborate with abuse of federal power,” Brown said on Aug. 6. “It is a balancing act. It does require some sensitivity. And that’s why I take a more nuanced and careful approach to dealing with what is a difficult problem. Because you do have people who are not here legally, they’ve committed crimes. They have no business in the United States in the manner in which they’ve come and conducted themselves subsequently.”

Brown’s reservations echoed those of some law enforcement officials in the state, including the powerful California State Sheriffs’ Association. That group has lobbied against the bill, arguing its restrictions would make it harder for officers to do their jobs and would put them in the position of defying federal demands in order to obey state law. Despite this week’s revisions, the group remains opposed to the bill’s passage.

“We’re passing laws to not communicate with other governmental agencies and I just struggle with that,” Kings County Sheriff David Robinson said in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday. “I’m still adamantly opposed to the bill. It does nothing to protect immigrants, whether legal or illegal. It only protects criminals.”

But not all law enforcement officials oppose the effort. Several key police officials, including Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Sacramento Police Capt. James Beezley, endorsed the measure in June.

“This Act allows the LAPD to fulfill its mission to keep the community safe, while still maintaining the Department’s ability to continue cultivating the trust of our residents,” Beck said in a statement at the time.



11 Documentaries About Immigration Everyone Should Watch