In a Trump-defying move, California’s Senate passes sanctuary state bill
In defiance of President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, the California Senate passed a bill to limit state and local police cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Senate Bill 54, which unofficially has been called a “sanctuary state” bill, bars state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources, including money, facility, property, equipment or personnel, to help with immigration enforcement. They would be prohibited from asking about immigration status, giving federal immigration authorities access to interview a person in custody or assisting them in immigration enforcement.
The bill passed the Senate in a 27-12 vote along party lines with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition.
SB 54 heads to the California State Assembly, where Democrats hold a super majority. If it passes there, the bill would go to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
Its author, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, hailed SB 54’s passage on Monday as “a rejection of President Trump’s false and cynical portrayal of undocumented residents as a lawless community.”
What the bill says
SB 54 bars law enforcement from detaining a person due to a hold request, responding to federal immigration enforcement’s requests for notification or providing information about a person’s release date unless that’s already available publicly.
“Our precious local law enforcement resources will be squandered if police are pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding maids, busboys, labors, mothers and fathers,” said de León in a statement.
The bill contains some exceptions, allowing local agencies to transfer individuals to federal immigration authorities if there is a judicial warrant or if the person has been previously convicted of a violent felony. It also requires notification to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement of scheduled releases of people who have been convicted of violent felonies.
“No one wants dangerous or violent criminals roaming our streets,” de León said.
Opposition to the bill
But critics say the bill has critical flaws.
State Sen. Jeff Stone, a Republican representing southwest Riverside County, argued on the floor that he recognized many undocumented workers don’t commit crimes and play a vital role in California. But he said that’s not what SB 54 addresses.
“We’re prohibiting local and state unfettered communications with federal authorities in getting many dangerous and violent felons out of our communities,” Stone said.
He said the latest amendments to the bill don’t cover other serious crimes such as human trafficking, child abuse and assault with a deadly weapon.
“How many more Kate Steinles do we need?” he asked.
The shooting death of Kate Steinle in 2015 sparked a national debate over so-called sanctuary cities and became a rallying cry for Trump on the campaign trail.
An undocumented immigrant and repeat felon from Mexico who’d been deported five times, is accused of shooting Steinle as she walked on a San Francisco pier. Her family had filed a wrongful death lawsuit against San Francisco and its former sheriff over the city’s sanctuary policy, which was dismissed earlier this year.
Sanctuary cities in California
The immigration issue looms large in California where nearly a quarter of the US population of undocumented immigrants reside. Estimates range from 2.35 to 2.6 million, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
Several California counties such as Monterey, Santa Clara and San Diego already have sanctuary protections.
The term “sanctuary cities” refers to jurisdictions including counties and major cities including Los Angeles and San Francisco that have policies in place that limit cooperation in enforcing federal immigration laws and protect local immigrant populations.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said the Trump administration will use federal funds to crack down on “sanctuary cities” and states that choose not to comply with federal immigration laws.
Other bills that passed the Senate
On Monday, the Senate also passed Senate Bill 6 in a 28-11 vote that creates a $12 million legal defense fund for immigrants who are facing deportation, except for those convicted of a violent felony.
It also approved Senate Bill 31, which prohibits any state or local agencies from disclosing personal information regarding a person’s religious beliefs to the federal government for the purpose of creating a database. The bill doesn’t explicitly refer to a Muslim registry. SB 31 passed 36-0.