California Forum

California’s ‘sanctuary state’ bill will just protect criminals

Foreign nationals are arrested in Los Angeles in February in a targeted operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). California’s “sanctuary state” bill, SB 54, would limit the involvement of local police and sheriffs in federal immigration enforcement.
Foreign nationals are arrested in Los Angeles in February in a targeted operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). California’s “sanctuary state” bill, SB 54, would limit the involvement of local police and sheriffs in federal immigration enforcement. AP

The duty of law enforcement is to protect the public safety. Our protection extends to everyone in our communities, but we must not provide sanctuary to criminals.

Unfortunately, Senate Bill 54 does just that. It gives cover to lawbreakers and will result in recycling criminals through our justice system. Sheriffs oppose SB 54 because it will impede our ability to protect the public, including immigrant communities.

SB 54 creates severe public safety problems by limiting or eliminating law enforcement's ability to communicate with our federal law enforcement counterparts. The bill would also limit the ability of a local law enforcement agency to work with federal authorities in investigations involving transnational crimes such as human trafficking, smuggling, and narcotic trafficking by drug cartels.

This bill will neither reform immigration nor protect communities. Rather, SB 54 shields criminals and puts hardworking people in harm’s way.

Under SB 54, sheriffs would be precluded from relaying information about persons convicted of serious crimes such as domestic violence or repeat drunk driving unless the offenders also had prior convictions for serious or violent felonies defined very narrowly in two state statutes. These statutes are so narrow that they do not cover crimes such as sexual battery, human trafficking, assault on a peace officer, solicitation of murder or a host of others that are very clearly serious crimes.

This misguided bill would result in dangerous criminal offenders (including drug dealers and known gang members) being released to our streets without communication with federal authorities. It is in the interest of all of our communities, and especially the immigrant community, that such offenders who are in this country unlawfully are deported by the federal government after appropriate due process, so that they cannot continue to prey on innocent victims.

Let me be clear: Sheriffs do not act as immigration police. We comply with California’s TRUST and TRUTH Acts. We protect those who live and work in our communities, regardless of their immigration status. But we should not protect or recycle criminals. We need to continue to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies to ensure that those who threaten our communities, including immigrant communities, are not given avoidable opportunities to hurt more people.

In limiting the ability to cooperate with federal law enforcement via our jails, SB 54 makes it much more likely that federal immigration enforcement, over which local law enforcement has no control, will be pushed deeper into our communities. This would result in collateral impacts on other members of the immigrant community caught up in these operations.

In trying to compromise on this bill, we offered common-sense amendments that make it clear that local law enforcement shall not engage in frontline immigration enforcement or detain someone on the basis of a hold request that violates federal law. We know these are important provisions for the proponents and they reflect our beliefs and current practices.

But our amendments also protect law enforcement’s ability to communicate with federal authorities about dangerous criminals to keep them from creating additional victims. Unfortunately, these straightforward amendments have not been adopted.

This bill will neither reform immigration nor protect communities. Rather, SB 54 shields criminals and puts hardworking people in harm’s way. That’s why the vast majority of California’s law enforcement community, including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Peace Officers Association, and the Peace Officers Research Association of California remain strongly opposed to it.

Let’s continue to protect all members of our communities, including immigrants. We cannot do that if we give criminals sanctuary.

Bill Brown is the sheriff of Santa Barbara County and president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association. He may be reached at pres@calsheriffs.org.

  Comments