Capitol Alert

California will soon be a ‘sanctuary state’ for undocumented immigrants

California lawmakers early Saturday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a “sanctuary state” immigration bill that he is expected to sign after demanding changes that some advocates said weaken its impact.

Senate Bill 54 will place limitations on how state and local law enforcement officials can communicate and coordinate with federal immigration authorities. Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said the measure “is needed now more than ever” in light of President Donald Trump’s decision to step up immigration enforcement and end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“Californians will not squander precious public safety dollars to tear families apart, take ‘Dreamers’ or deport people who have helped California become the sixth largest economy in the world,” de León said. “This is a message, no doubt, to Washington, D.C., that we will protect the hardworking people of our communities.”

Shortly after Trump won election last fall, de León’s staff invited several immigration lawyers to join a conference call and asked them to bring ideas that were considered politically infeasible under the Obama administration back to the table in California. What emerged was SB 54, described by advocates in its original form as the best sanctuary legislation they’d seen in decades.

Yet even in deep-blue California, the original sweeping prohibitions, which would have kept federal immigration authorities out of local jails and largely barred them from receiving any help from state law enforcement, proved impossible to jam through.

The measure cruised through the Senate and was expected to pass the Assembly before Brown blocked what many expected to be an easy lay-up to victory for de León and advocates for the undocumented community. Negotiations between Brown and the Senate leader resulted in a final version that largely aligns with California’s Trust Act, an anti-deportation law that limits the ability of local police to detain individuals on immigration holds.

Advocates still support California’s marquee anti-Trump bill because it bans local police from targeting individuals based on immigration status alone and limits their ability to use their resources to investigate undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes. But it now allows local police to respond to notification requests and transfers immigrants to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement if the individual has committed one of the more than 800 crimes outlined in The Trust Act.

The California Police Chiefs Association went neutral on the measure after Brown’s demands were reflected in the last round of amendments. The California Sheriffs’ Association continues to oppose it.

The state Assembly approved SB 54 on a 50-25 vote on Friday. It later cleared the Senate 27-17 and was sent to the governor. Brown announced his support for the measure after reaching an agreement with the de León’s office earlier this week. The bill would take effect Jan. 1.

In arguing against the measure, Republicans in the Assembly invoked the 2015 shooting of Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant in San Francisco, arguing that sanctuary protections make communities less safe. Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said the bill would create “only a sanctuary for criminals.”

Democrats noted that when immigrants trust law enforcement, they are more likely to report crimes and come forward as witnesses to crimes.

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, a former criminal prosecutor, said from “first-hand experience” that fear of deportation among immigrants actually makes cities less safe.

“I know, from speaking to hundreds of victims of crimes, witnesses of crimes, that if you’re a victim or a witness, it’s difficult to trust working with law enforcement if you think there’s a chance that your immigration status might be passed along to the federal government,” he said.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna

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