Assembly backs limiting immigrants' vulnerability when arrested

05/17/2013 12:00 AM

09/18/2013 12:13 PM

The Assembly passed a bill Thursday designed to reduce the number of deportations and immigration holds for people arrested, charged or convicted of minor crimes.

Written by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, Assembly Bill 4 would prevent local police from detaining people based on immigration status when they are arrested unless they have prior serious or violent felony convictions.

The bill, which Ammiano and supporters have dubbed the "Trust Act," is an expanded version of legislation proposed last year that was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. As the measure moves to the Senate, Ammiano is expected to offer amendments to win Brown's support.

The bill is designed to dictate how police deal with requests for information under the federal Secure Communities program. Under current state law, police have the discretion to send information to federal officials, who automatically check the immigration status of people using fingerprints obtained upon arrest.

Ammiano said the Secure Communities Program is supposed to target serious offenders, but that hasn't been the case.

Data from the Secure Communities Program showed California deported 93,571 undocumented immigrants from October 2008 to February 2013. Of those deportations, 68 percent were people who were never convicted of a crime or were low-level offenders.

Ammiano said those kind of deportations erode trust in law enforcement and cause undocumented immigrants to be fearful of reporting crimes.

In his veto message last year, Brown said the bill was "fatally flawed" because it did not allow local officers to detain a person accused of some serious crimes, such as child abuse, drug trafficking or selling weapons.

"The significant flaws in this bill can be fixed, and I will work with the Legislature to see that the bill is corrected forthwith," Brown said in the veto message.

Ammiano said he is working with Brown's office on the current bill's language, which still includes the examples Brown highlighted. On Thursday, the bill passed 44-21 mostly along party lines, with several Republicans expressing concerns that the proposed legislation is ill-conceived and piecemeal.

"This bill is not about restoring trust; this bill is about undermining the rule of law," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. "If we allow the law to break down at the lowest level, eventually we will have no more rule of law. "

The case of Juana Reyes was raised several times during discussion on the Assembly floor. Reyes, who had lived in the United States for 16 years with no criminal history, was arrested last year for refusing to stop selling tamales in front of a Sacramento Walmart. She spent 13 days on an immigration hold in the Sacramento County jail.

Her children were placed in foster care until a misdemeanor trespassing charge was dismissed and she was referred to federal authorities as a deportable alien.

"We have to move this bill forward to restore community trust to local law enforcement and end the practice of tearing apart families and neighborhoods on the basis of insignificant alleged offenses," Ammiano said.

Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @melodygutierrez.

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