California’s so-called “sanctuary state” bill, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León as a direct response to President Donald Trump’s campaign promise to deport “bad hombres” and undocumented immigrants, is well on its way to becoming law.
One of the most contentious legislative issues in a year rife with racial tension, Senate Bill 54 pits nationalists who have long called for the removal of the undocumented community from an increasingly Latino state against advocates on the left who believe the president is unfairly targeting a vulnerable population of Mexican immigrants.
The measure has already passed the state Senate and is expected to win approval in the Assembly. It’s unclear where Gov. Jerry Brown stands on the bill, but his office is in talks with de León to iron out any issues before it reaches his desk.
Unless Brown pulls the plug, Californians will likely live in a “sanctuary state” by next year. Keep reading as we explain what that means.
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What does the bill do?
SB 54 essentially builds a wall between California law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill also scales back the ability of local police to target individuals based on their immigration status alone. It does nothing to restrict ICE’s ability to independently enforce immigration law in California.
How does the bill change what local law enforcement can and cannot do?
Under the measure, California law enforcement cannot use agency or department money, facilities, property, equipment or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes. The bill says police can’t ask someone for their immigration status or detain them on a request from the federal government. Law enforcement can’t provide release dates or other information that is not publicly available in response to a request for notification. They are also prohibited from providing personal information, including a home address or work address, unless it is available to the public. Law enforcement cannot give the feds access to interview an individual in their custody without a judicial warrant or serve on immigration task forces.
Are there any exceptions? Does the bill allow dangerous criminals to walk the streets?
The bill was amended early on at the request of law enforcement to allow police to respond to federal immigration requests related to inmates who are serving time for or who have been previously convicted of a violent or serious felony. The amendments also require the Board of Parole Hearings or the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to notify United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement at least 60 days before the scheduled release date of an undocumented immigrant from state prison who is serving time for or has previously been convicted of a violent or serious felony. The bill allows police to transfer someone to federal immigration authorities if they produce a warrant signed by a federal judge or a judicial probable-cause determination. Another exception to the general rule allows police to notify and transfer a serious or violent felon to ICE if they are stopped for any legal reason and have been previously deported.
What is a violent or serious felony?
The penal code referenced in the bill lists 42 serious felonies that include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, attempted murder, arson, kidnapping, robbery, witness intimidation and other charges. Another 23 violent felonies are also included.
Why do advocates dislike the term “sanctuary state”?
The pro tem says it’s a misnomer which gives a false impression that undocumented immigrants are safe from deportation in California, or that undocumented criminals can find sanctuary here. In reality, ICE agents can still exercise their authority to enforce immigration law and detain, investigate, arrest and deport undocumented immigrants within state borders. SB 54 only restricts the ability of local law enforcement to target individuals based on immigration status and to aid the federal government on immigration enforcement.
Why does de León believe SB 54 is necessary?
De León argues that undocumented immigrants are central to the California economy and a federal crackdown will hurt the industries that rely on these workers. He says the bill is essential to building trust between the undocumented community and police. If local law enforcement can carry out Trump’s deportation policies, he says undocumented immigrants will hesitate to come forward and help police solve crimes.
LAPD police Chief Charlie Beck, a supporter of the measure, said in March that Latinos in his community were already reporting less rape and spousal abuse out of fear of deportation. De León also pointed to data that show crime is lower in counties that do not assist the federal government by holding people in custody beyond their release date compared to counties that do.
De León says Californians already pay the federal government to enforce immigration law through taxes and should not be required to spend additional local police resources carrying out Trump’s agenda.
Why does the California Sheriff’s Association oppose it?
Bill Brown, the sheriff of Santa Barbara County and president of the California State Sheriff’s Association, testified in a July committee hearing that the bill provides sanctuary to criminals and endangers the public.
Brown said the bill creates public safety problems by limiting communication with ICE and will result in dangerous drug dealers and gang members being released without proper notification. The sheriffs argue that the definitions of serious and violent felonies are too narrow and preclude police from sharing information related to felons convicted of human trafficking, sexual battery and driving under the influence causing injury, among other crimes.
Does SB 54 overrule policies enacted by local jurisdictions?
Local jurisdictions can build on SB 54 to further restrict cooperation with the federal government. Local jurisdictions cannot roll back any of the requirements in the measure.
Will California lose money from the federal government if SB 54 is enacted?
That’s up to the courts.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to strip federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions. In July, he announced new conditions that cities and states must meet to receive grants under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program. Sessions said cities and states must give federal immigration officers access to detention facilities and provide 48 hours notice before they release undocumented immigrants wanted by federal authorities.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit against the federal government in response to the policy earlier this month. Becerra noted that the state and local communities expect to receive $28.3 million from the JAG program next year. San Francisco and Santa Clara County previously won a federal injunction in April against a presidential executive order denying funding to sanctuary cities.