Like the America of our ideals, California welcomes newcomers who arrive seeking to build new lives.
Yes, the history of our state’s quest for equality, like that of our nation, is marred by mistakes and aberrations. But as President Donald Trump plays his harsh brand of politics with the children of immigrants who came here illegally, California lawmakers must take a stand by approving Senate Bill 54, legislation that would create what has come to be known as a sanctuary state.
The legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, would bar state and local officials, including police – whose job it is to keep the peace at California’s very diverse state and local level – from using their resources to perform and support federal immigration enforcement. We agree.
We want kids to go to school, no matter their parents’ immigration status, and seek medical care if they are sick. To solve crimes, local cops need cooperation. People who are undocumented won’t come forward if they risk deportation. We obviously do not sanction serious and violent criminal behavior, but we Californians are a welcoming people, and we care for our neighbors, whether or not their papers would withstand strong scrutiny.
As introduced in the days after Trump’s fluky election, the bill would have granted too many protections to undocumented immigrants who had committed serious crimes while in our state. Early versions could have unduly restricted state prison authorities, shielding people who had served time from federal immigration officials.
But with the legislative session nearing its conclusion, de León, skilled lawmaker that he is, is working with Gov. Jerry Brown to tweak the bill in ways that would protect decent people from Trump’s overreaches, while ensuring convicted criminals are handed over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We hope a compromise is reached.
California officials should have no interest in protecting from deportation people convicted and sentenced to prison for crimes, ranging from homicide and rape to robbery, home burglary, human trafficking and repeated convictions for drunken driving.
An Assembly analysis of de León’s bill said 818 inmates in state prison were granted parole in 2016, including 160 who had an immigration detainer. As the bill stood in August, those 160 inmates “would, in all likelihood, remain under the supervision” of the state and not be deported.
Brown has offered language, disclosed by the online publication, The Intercept, that would authorize the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to cooperate with federal immigration officials by letting them know in advance when felons are being released from prison. We suspect that the vast majority of Californians, including Dreamers, agree with that step.
Brown, the former state attorney general, has the ultimate say over the legislation, and could veto it if he believes it’s protective of criminals. Or, if Brown were to sign overly broad legislation, anti-immigrant forces could use California’s direct democracy system and qualify a referendum for the November 2018 ballot to overturn the law.
Such a referendum could help motivate conservative voters to turn out to the polls next November, and Democrats might not like the outcome. An association representing county sheriffs already opposes de León’s bill. Sheriffs could form a powerful voice in any campaign to overturn the law, if it is written in ways that protect of convicted criminals from deportation.
Some liberal advocates are pushing for purity, and are attacking Brown’s compromise. We understand that sentiment. Having inflamed animus toward immigrants to win votes as a candidate, Trump continues to pander as president.
Two weeks ago, Trump played to his base by using his presidential power to pardon ex-Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who repeatedly abused the power of his office at the expense of Latinos. Arpaio had been convicted of flouting orders issued by a federal judge appointed by President George W. Bush that Arpaio halt his immigration roundups.
Trump then directed his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to announce that the administration was repealing Obama administration protections for the children of undocumented immigrants, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.
Trump delayed implementation of that order for six months to give Congress time to send him legislation granting permanent status to 800,000 Dreamers, including 242,000 Californians. Perhaps that ploy will result in a humane and sensible immigration law overhaul, though Congress’ track record on the issue gives us little cause for optimism. In the meantime, Trump’s threat cruelly treats Dreamers as pawns.
We all know Dreamers. They are our friends, co-workers, classmates and employees. For many of them, America is the only homeland they know.
California should use all available means under the law to protect them from deportation. That includes passing a sensible and defensible version of Senate Bill 54.