San Jose Mercury News: California’s ‘sanctuary state’ bill clears hurdle, moves to Senate

March 13, 2017

By Katy Murphy

SACRAMENTO — With some new tweaks to make it palatable to moderates, a polarizing California bill to keep California’s law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agents cleared a major hurdle Monday and will head to the Senate for a full vote.

Carried by Senate Leader Kevin de León, Senate Bill 54 is perhaps the Legislature’s highest-profile act of defiance against the Trump administration, which is seeking to enlist the help of local police to carry out its promised crackdown on illegal immigration. With only a few exceptions — such as inter-agency task forces and detainees charged with certain violent felonies — it would prohibit local and state agencies from using state resources to communicate with federal immigration agents.

Despite opposition from the California State Sheriffs’ Association and other groups at a packed and testy Senate appropriations committee hearing, Senate Bill 54, titled the California Values Act, advanced on a party-line vote.The sheriffs’ association remained opposed even after recent amendments that attempted to assuage the concerns of law enforcement — chiefly, ensuring the feds receive a 60-day notice before certain violent felons are released from state prison or local custody.

While not enough to convert the sheriff’s association, the concession prompted Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a law enforcement veteran and moderate Democrat, to sign on as a co-author.

The bill has the support of labor, religious and civil rights groups, but has drawn sharp opposition from those who say it will protect criminals, or that the state shouldn’t be going out of its way to shield those who entered the country illegally. The hearing room grew tense at times, with audience observers on each side laughing, applauding, making sarcastic remarks or shushing one another.

One witness who had testified against the measure cursed at Sen. Scott Wiener as the Democratic senator from San Francisco spoke.

Patricia Bates, a Republican from Southern California who serves as vice chairwoman of the Senate appropriations committee, said she worried the state’s policies would leave otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants vulnerable to criminals who should be deported. She noted that some violent crimes, including corporal abuse of children and assault with a deadly weapon, were not covered in the new amendment.

“Individuals involved in this kind of crime are predators for people who live in these communities,” she said.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Roseville, suggested amendments, but said he doubted he would ever support such a measure, regardless of its final form. “This will set up a safe haven for criminals,” he said. “They will come to California. Why? They will be protected.”

Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood, said he, too, had received calls from concerned constituents, and that he appreciated the amendments that de León made last week.

Like his Republican colleagues, Bradford said, “We’re very much committed to making our communities safer.” But, he added, “I think we’d all agree that mass deportation is not the answer.”

Wiener said he worries public safety will be compromised if crime victims or witnesses fear going to the police with information. Anxiety about the Trump administration’s policies on immigration is widespread, he said. “What gives me fear and a lot of people fear,” he said, “is that we have children who are scared to go to school because they’re worried they’ll come home from school and their mom or dad might be gone.”

SB 54 was advanced as an “urgency bill,” which means it will take effect immediately if it wins support from two-thirds of the Senate and the Assembly and is signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Read the story on the San Jose Mercury News website.