Ana Pérez, who is based in California, is the movement building director for Presente.org, a national online Latino political engagement organization.

Viewpoints: Brown, Obama must live up to their promises on immigration

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Sunday, Nov. 25, 2012 - 10:50 am

This month's decisive Latino voter turnout has been widely hailed as a turning point in both California and national politics.

But will it also mark a turning point away from heartbreaking deportation policies that tear at the fabric of our families and communities?

A growing bipartisan chorus is calling for leaders in Washington to finally create a reasonable immigration process for the nation. But the first test to see if elected leaders are serious about easing the pain of millions of families will actually be in Sacramento.

Gov. Jerry Brown must keep his promise to champion a revamped version of the TRUST Act – a bill that would limit unfair detentions in local jails for deportation purposes – "forthwith."

Like millions of Latino voters, I have close friends and loved ones who are Americans in all but paperwork. They have called the Golden State home since before the youngest voters in this year's election were born. But they lack legal status because our nation lacks a common-sense immigration process.

I constantly worry that one of these dear friends could be arrested for the tiniest or most unreasonable of things.

You and I would expect to be quickly freed and reunited with our families after a minor arrest. But these aspiring citizens are detained for an extended time in our local jails and transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.

And I worry whether this could happen to me or even U.S.-born Latinos. Studies estimate thousands of U.S. citizens (translation: Latino voters) have also been wrongfully trapped in local jails on immigration "holds."

These injustices cry out for a solution.

Many point to the federal level. We absolutely need a common-sense approach to immigration that provides a path to citizenship for millions of aspiring citizens. In the wake of the election, we've seen an unprecedented shift in tone from some Republican leaders, and President Barack Obama has promised to take up the issue shortly after his inauguration.

We need to work hard to make sure that happens.

But words alone don't change anything on the ground.

And on the ground, we have discriminatory racial profiling laws that coerce local police to act as extensions of ICE in states from Arizona to South Carolina. And even here in solidly blue California, the same thing is essentially happening. More than 82,000 residents have been deported under the discredited federal "Secure Communities" deportation program – seven in 10 of whom had not committed a serious crime.

A strong majority of voters support a pathway to citizenship – yet thousands of Californians who would be eligible for legal status under immigration reform are being deported each month.

As Gov. Brown wrote: "Until we have immigration reform, federal agents shouldn't try to coerce local law enforcement officers into detaining people who've been picked up for minor offenses and pose no reasonable threat to their community."

Ironically, these words came with the governor's veto of the TRUST Act.

But he promised to work on a new version of the bill, "forthwith." During his savvy campaign for Proposition 30, he deepened this commitment in the Spanish-language press. The governor told the nation's largest Spanish-language daily, La Opinion, that he would support a revised version of the bill moving forward as soon as December, and that it could quickly go into effect.

The immigration debate is littered with broken promises, but California can help heal that painful legacy. The TRUST Act would have only allowed detentions of immigrants in local jails for extra time for those charged or convicted of a serious or violent felony as defined under California law – the same crimes that make up the first "strike" under the "three-strikes" law.

This would have helped public safety by making sure victims and witnesses of crime can come forward without fear, and it would have lifted the burden on local jails already pressed for space. But Brown vetoed the bill because he felt holds should be allowed for a wider list of crimes.

Disappointingly, he had many opportunities to work with the Legislature on the bill, but raised these concerns at the last minute. And bear in mind that in the president's home county, Cook County, Illinois, authorities don't hold anyone for ICE. They argue it's a matter of equality under the law.

And if the governor doesn't make good on his promise, Democrats in the Legislature would inspire communities across the nation if they used their new supermajority powers to pass the bill without him.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ana Pérez



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