Gov. Jerry Brown placed new limitations on state and local law enforcement’s ability to help the federal government enforce immigration violations by signing California’s controversial “sanctuary state” bill into law on Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León introduced Senate Bill 54 weeks after the 2016 election to stifle President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to ramp up deportations and prevent the federal government from using California police officers to accomplish his goal.
SB 54 was among nearly a dozen immigration-related bills that Brown signed on Thursday. Others prohibit landlords from reporting their undocumented renters, bar employers from authorizing workplace raids by federal immigration enforcement officials, and allow students whose parents are deported to continue attending California schools.
The measure, a hallmark of the state’s so-called “resistance” to the White House, became a deeply controversial topic and prompted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to campaign against it alongside the California State Sheriffs’ Association.
After publicly questioning the legislation, Brown intervened and demanded a 12-fold increase in the types of prior convictions that exclude immigrants from most protections under the bill – from 65 different serious and violent felonies to over 800 crimes, including some misdemeanors. Brown’s amendments also gave federal immigration agents access to interview immigrants in jails and exempted the California Department of Corrections from the measure, among other major changes.
In a signing statement, Brown noted the changes he demanded. “These are uncertain times for undocumented citizens and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day,” Brown said.
Before the amendments were revealed to the public, some advocates for the undocumented community complained that the changes drastically weakened the bill. In the end, the groups applauded the measure as a positive step forward.
De León defended the final version of the bill, saying it still accomplished his initial objective to prevent California resources and police from being “commandeered” for Trump’s policies.
“California’s local law enforcement cannot be commandeered and used by the Trump Administration to tear families apart, undermine our safety, and wreak havoc on our economy,” de Leon said at a news conference in Los Angeles, where activists behind him chanted “Sí, se puede.”
De León denounced Trump and criticized his policies as “racist and xenophobic.”
“I know Trump supporters don’t get this from their news outlets or blogs, but immigrants commit far fewer crimes than U.S.-born citizens. That is a fact, not fake news,” he said.
Former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco politician who carried an anti-deportation California law known as the Trust Act, said advocates got “sucker punched” and acquiesced to make the best of it without breaking bridges with Brown and de León.
“It’s not what it was promised to be,” Ammiano said. “That happens in Sacramento, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK. It has Jerry Brown’s hesitant fingers on it and the pro tem’s office attempting to live with it. We all know that there are carve outs in it that should not be acceptable.”
Ammiano said the bill doesn’t go far enough to protect vulnerable immigrants from Trump.
“What do you need?” Ammiano said. “He pardoned (former Arizona Sheriff Joe) Arpaio. He rescinded DACA. What does it take from the governor and pro tem to know this is super inefficient and it’s betraying a lot of people?”
As a result of the amendments, the California Police Chiefs Association went from opposing the bill to neutral. The sheriffs’ organization remained against SB 54 and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had publicly urged Brown to veto it.
Here’s some of the things local and state law enforcement cannot do under the bill:
▪ Inquire about an individual’s immigration status.
▪ Detain someone on a hold request for the federal government, unless there’s a felony warrant or the person has been convicted of one of the more than 800 crimes.
▪ Arrest someone for a civil immigration warrant alone.
▪ Be deputized as immigration agents.
▪ Participate in border patrol activities.
▪ Participate in joint task forces with the federal government if the primary purpose is immigration enforcement.
▪ Notify the federal government of someone’s release or transfer someone to federal custody, unless there’s a federal warrant or the person has been convicted of one of the more than 800 crimes listed in a revised Trust Act.