Lawmakers at the state Capitol spent the last nine months taking shots at immigration policies out of Washington and pledging to protect California’s undocumented community with legislation of their own.
While a few proposals fell flat in the Legislature’s final week of the year, advocates say President Donald Trump’s promise to more aggressively pursue illegal immigration created a new sense of urgency.
“These are issues that advocacy groups have been closely looking at for many years,” said Maya Ingram, legislative attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of California. “Federal action helped raise these issues to the forefront of everyone’s attention this year.”
Among the legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown were bills that would protect undocumented immigrants’ personal information, make it illegal for landlords to use their immigration status against them and limit the ability of state agencies to cooperate with federal authorities.
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California’s marquee immigration measure, Senate Bill 54, and its “sanctuary state” moniker commanded attention throughout California and beyond. The legislation, introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, allows undocumented immigrants without criminal records to live freely knowing local police can’t stop and question them based on their citizenship status alone.
The Legislature doesn’t have the jurisdiction to do much to stop U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement activity, but can limit how local police work with the federal government. The final version of the measure, crafted with heavy input from the governor, allows local law enforcement to respond to federal notification and transfer requests if the individual has been convicted of one of the more than 800 crimes or is the subject of a federal felony arrest warrant. Local law enforcement is not allowed to hold immigrants for federal authorities.
The California Sheriffs’ Association, a top opponent of the bill, says SB 54 and some of the other immigration measures the Legislature passed this year complicate police work.
“It’s an opportunity to use a political process at the state level to push back against the federal government’s policies and law and particularly against the Trump administration,” said Bill Brown, president of the sheriffs’ association. “That’s not our conjecture. That’s the stated goal of the author of SB 54. That’s not our fight as sheriffs. We’re concerned about the public safety of everyone we’re responsible for protecting and serving. We feel SB 54 is an impediment to us serving our communities.”
Bill Brown commended the governor for working with the sheriffs and remedying “the bulk” of their concerns in amendments he negotiated with de León.
Other measures on Gov. Brown’s desk build on the protections set forth in the sanctuary state policy.
Senate Bill 613 protects immigrants in the care of the Division of Juvenile Justice, Department of State Hospitals and Department of Developmental Services from deportation by no longer requiring the agencies to cooperate with ICE. Another measure, Assembly Bill 450, keeps federal authorities out of private workplaces unless they have a judicial warrant.
A bill to curtail Trump’s “Muslim registry,” Senate Bill 31, would prohibit public employees from providing information for a registry based on religion, national origin or ethnicity – unless confronted with a court order or federal law. Brown can make it illegal for landlords to threaten or retaliate against an undocumented immigrant tenant by disclosing their citizenship status if he signs Assembly Bill 291.
Public universities and community colleges would have to limit the personal information they share about students and employees under Assembly Bill 21, which also advises educational institutions about how to respond to federal agents on campus.
Assembly Bill 208 allows some people suspected of certain drug possession offenses to enter into a diversion program to keep the charge off their record, effectively eliminating the ability of the federal government to use the charge to deport an undocumented immigrant or reject an application for citizenship. Another bill, Senate Bill 393, allows people to petition the court to seal an arrest record that did not result in a conviction, eliminating another potential reason for the federal government to dismiss a citizenship application.
Refugees or special immigrant visa holders would be exempt from paying non-resident college tuition rates under Assembly Bill 343.
Senate Bill 29 attempts to halt the expansion of for-profit detention centers by banning cities and counties from establishing a contract with private companies or the federal government to detain immigrants if they don’t already have one in place.
Earlier this month, Brown signed Assembly Bill 493, a bill meant to encourage undocumented immigrants to report crimes by making it illegal to detain a witness to a crime for immigration reasons only.
The Legislature and Brown also committed $30 million from the state budget to fund college financial aid and legal assistance for young undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children.
Altogether, the polices provide minimum protections for immigrants to feel safe sending their kids to school, driving to work and otherwise carrying out basic activities, said Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center in Los Angeles.
“The California response is important because it helps people think there’s another way to do things,” Buiza said. “There’s another way to treat immigrants. When the administration sows fears and goes to scare tactics we will have hope and allow people to think all is not lost.”
A couple notable immigration measures failed to pass this year, but may return in 2018:
▪ A rebuttal to Trump’s border wall, Senate Bill 30 would have prohibited the state from awarding or renewing contracts to a company that has provided goods or services to help construct a barrier along the California-Mexico border.
▪ Senate Bill 244 would have prohibited the disclosure of information that undocumented immigrants provide to receive college grants, driver’s licenses, medical care and public services.