The Golden State is about to become a “sanctuary state.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill that places sharp limits on how state and local law enforcement agencies can cooperate with federal immigration authorities, placing California squarely and provocatively in conflict with President Donald Trump and his calls to deport millions of immigrants in the country unlawfully.
"These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families,” the governor said in a signing statement that laid out what the measure will – and will not – do. “This bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day.”
The bill, SB 54 by California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018. In broad terms, it extends local “sanctuary city” protections for immigrants living in California without legal documentation. (The governor, De León and some of the bill’s backers prefer not to use the term “sanctuary state” because it has become politically loaded and there is confusion over its precise meaning.)
Specifically, it bans state and local agencies, excluding the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, from enforcing “holds” on people in custody. It blocks the deputization of police as immigration agents and bars state and local law enforcement agencies from inquiring into an individual’s immigration status.
And it prohibits new or expanded contracts with federal agencies to use California law enforcement facilities as detention centers, although it does not force the termination of existing contracts – including Orange County’s $22 million annual contract with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“The California Values Act won’t stop ICE from trolling our streets. It will not provide full sanctuary. But it will put a kink – a large kink – in Trump’s perverse and inhumane deportation machine,” De León said at a news conference Thursday after the governor signed the bill. “California is building a wall – a wall of justice – against President Trump’s xenophobic, racist and ignorant immigration policies.”
Hear Capital Bureau Chief Ben Adler discuss the significance of this bill -- and the U.S. Department of Justice's response:
But under a deal struck between De León and Brown, an originally wide-ranging bill was narrowed down to address law enforcement concerns. For example, compared to previous versions, the final measure expands the list of crimes for which law enforcement can choose to notify and transfer someone to immigration authorities.
The agreement allows federal agents to interview people in custody, and state and local agencies can continue to participate in joint task forces with ICE and other federal agencies. The final legislation also drops an earlier provision that would have banned California law enforcement from sharing their databases for immigration enforcement.
The late amendments led California police chiefs to drop their opposition to the bill and shift their position to neutral. But, along with Republicans, sheriffs remain the measure’s leading critics.
“The bill that is in print now is significantly better than what was there,” Santa Barbara County Sheriff and California State Sheriffs’ Association president Bill Brown told Capital Public Radio last month after the deal with the governor was struck. But he said, as a result of the new law, “People who are chronic or serial criminals that just haven’t risen to a particular level of crime yet are going to go back out into the community, and people are going to be victimized.”
The Trump administration also slammed the bill signing.
“The State of California has now codified a commitment to returning criminal aliens back onto our streets, which undermines public safety, national security, and law enforcement,” Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement. “Given the multiple high-profile incidents that have occurred in California in recent years, it is especially disappointing that state leaders have made it law to limit cooperation between local jurisdictions and immigration authorities attempting to keep Californians safe.”
But Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, a Los Angeles immigrant who was detained earlier this year while taking his daughters to school, said the governor’s action made him feel very emotional.
“There will be a lot more tranquility in our community,“ Avelica-Gonzalez said in Spanish at De León's news conference. “We’re gonna be able to take our kids to school, go visit the doctor, go to courts, with the confidence that we won’t be detained.”
SB 54 passed both chambers of the California Legislature last month on the final day of session. All but three Democrats supported the bill, while no Republican voted for it.
One of many immigration measures
The sanctuary state bill was one of 34 new laws the governor signed Thursday, many also concerning immigrants.
One measure would make it illegal for a landlord to threaten to disclose a tenant's immigration status to get them to move out or to pay higher rent. Another measure states that businesses cannot allow federal immigration agents into non-public areas of their premises, unless there's a warrant. And another bill allows immigrants to receive in-state tuition when attending community college.
The Governor's Office says Brown still must act on another 423 bills by an October 15th deadline.
-Ben Bradford, Capital Public Radio
Gov. Brown's SB 54 Signing Statement