San Francisco Chronicle: California Senate approves ‘sanctuary state’ bill
By Melody Guittierez
SACRAMENTO — California took another step Monday toward a showdown with the Trump administration over sanctuary policies when the state Senate approved a bill that would prohibit local police officers and sheriff’s deputies throughout the state from enforcing federal immigration laws.
The bill essentially would force all city and county law enforcement departments to follow the type of sanctuary policies that many of the more liberal cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, embrace. The legislation passed the Senate with a 27-12 vote and now heads to the Assembly.
“This is about making our communities safer, not less safe,” said Senate President Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, author of SB54. De León said Trump’s policies have caused fear in immigrant communities to such a degree that some people are afraid to report crimes.
De León said the bill requires the state to protect its immigrant communities and would ensure that people living in the country without documentation know they can call police to report a crime or take their children to school without fear of being deported.
SB54 would bar police agencies from enforcing immigration laws, including arresting or detaining people in the country without documentation for immigration violations unless a judge issues a warrant. The agencies would be prohibited from asking about someone’s immigration status or providing information to federal immigration officers.
The bill also would prohibit local law enforcement agencies from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on task forces, such as on drug and human trafficking cases, if the primary focus is immigration enforcement.
Lawmakers made several amendments to make the bill more palatable to police agencies, including a provision allowing state and local law enforcement agencies to notify ICE before a felon convicted of a serious or violent crime is released from prison or jail so the person can be deported.
The action comes as the Trump administration hardens the country’s policies on illegal immigration, which includes beefing up border security and immigration enforcement. Last month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said states and cities with sanctuary policies will lose federal Department of Justice funding.
“The tough talk is all rhetoric coming out of Washington,” de León said. “We are going to be punished or they will strike back at us? We are the great state of California. We don’t grovel or put our hand out so we can get a little budget money so we can buy a police car.”
But state Republican lawmakers lashed out at Democrats over SB54, saying the majority party is putting California at risk of losing billions in federal funding by antagonizing the president and that the bill will put residents in danger by allowing criminals to remain in the state.
“Don’t get caught up with ‘I hate Trump’ fever,” said Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, as he urged lawmakers to oppose the bill. “SB54 is the wrong direction.”
Democrats, who have a supermajority control of both houses of the Legislature, pointed out that studies have shown that immigrants, including those living in the country without documentation, commit crimes at lower rates than people born in the country.
Last week, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye criticized federal immigration officials for conducting raids at courthouses, saying it would have a chilling effect in communities as people worry they can’t “seek protection because they will see the court as a bad place. And I worry that crimes will go unreported and communities will live in fear.”
De León said the Senate met with its outside legal counsel, former Attorney General Eric Holder, and is confident that the state has a strong legal basis to move forward with the statewide policy.
“The gun-to-the-head method to force resistant cities and counties to participate in Trump’s inhumane and counterproductive mass deportations is unconstitutional and will fail,” he said.
Before the vote, lawmakers introduced the family of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, who was taken into custody by U.S. immigration agents in February while driving his daughter to school in Los Angeles. Avelica-Gonzalez’s arrest made national headlines after his 13-year-old daughter recorded it on her cell phone between sobs.
“This bill is about people who are just trying to live their lives; people who are living in fear because of the political atmosphere,” said Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. “People who need to be able to trust their government.”
Republicans gave their own examples, including the 2015 shooting death of Kathryn Steinle along San Francisco’s Pier 14. Steinle’s alleged assailant was a man who was not authorized to be in the country and had been released despite immigration officials requesting the city hold him.
“I’m not saying an illegal alien is more likely to commit a crime,” said Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula (Riverside County). “What I am saying is that an illegal alien who commits serious and violent crimes should not be protected the way this law would protect them.”
The Senate also approved SB6 by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, which would create a $12 million state-funded program where the state would pay for lawyers at nonprofit organizations to represent people facing deportation. People who have been convicted of a violent felony would not be eligible for the free legal services. SB6 passed 27-10 and now heads to the Assembly.
Supporters of the bill say immigrants who have an attorney representing them in deportation cases are three times more likely to win the right to remain in the country.
Read the story on the San Francisco Chronicle website