CA. IMMIGRATION BILL REKINDLES DEBATEGov. Jerry Brown is fielding heavy lobbying on a bill that would allow local law enforcement to limit participation in the federal Secure Communities program, which enables immigration authorities to place deportation holds on undocumented immigrants detained by police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
The legislation, which the governor must act on by Sept. 30, would give local authorities the option of honoring such holds only for individuals with serious criminal convictions. It is the latest chapter in a long-running national debate about whether, or how much, local law enforcement should help federal agents to enforce immigration laws.
12:01 a.m., Sept. 3, 2012
Updated 8:33 p.m. , Sept. 2, 2012
Lawsuits, rallies and tens of millions of lobbying dollars have been spent in recent years on efforts to support or oppose measures calling for police to verify the residency status of drivers they pull over, patrol officers to use federal databases to screen the fingerprints of people they arrest, local authorities to share office space with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and cities’ public safety departments to turn over to ICE undocumented drivers they find at DUI checkpoints.
Critics of the latest proposal — Assembly Bill 1081, or the Transparency and Responsibility in Using State Tools (TRUST) Act — include sheriffs such as San Diego County’s Bill Gore, who recently wrote to Brown asking that he veto the legislation. In the letter, Gore said cooperation between local and federal agencies is key to keeping residents safe in his cross-border region.
“For us in San Diego County, strategies matter and the stakes could not be higher,” he wrote. “The working relationship we have with the U.S. Border Patrol and customs, both on the streets and in our jails, is vital to our efforts. That’s why it is so disturbing when the Legislature decides to interfere with professionally crafted strategies aimed at enhancing public safety in order to make a political statement.”
Immigrant advocates, including those from San Diego, have traveled several times to Sacramento to lobby for passage of AB 1081. They said the measure would rebuild trust that has been lost between law enforcement and undocumented immigrants, who may fear calling for help if they face deportation.
They also said it would keep Secure Communities focused on those with serious criminal records — the program’s stated goal — and not those with clean records or minor infractions.
They and other backers of the bill, including a group of law professors who sent a letter to Brown on Thursday, said Secure Communities violates due process for detainees and encourages racial profiling.
“Secure Communities has not been what it was sold to be, and the TRUST Act is trying to rectify that,” said Homayra Yusufi, policy advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties.
Brown has not indicated his position on the measure.
Secure Communities began as a pilot project in 2008, with voluntary participation by local law enforcement. Now it is considered mandatory by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees the program, and implementation has occurred in nearly every part of the country.
The Obama administration has described Secure Communities as an important part of its overall efforts to counter illegal immigration, which has resulted in record numbers of deportations in the past few years.
The program requires police agencies to share fingerprint information with federal immigration authorities. An undocumented person is usually placed on immigration hold, and that typically leads to deportation.
Under the TRUST Act, the process would stay the same except that local agencies could decide to ignore deportation holds for those not convicted of violent crimes or other felonies.
The legislation was authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who said Secure Communities was netting a wider range of undocumented immigrants than originally intended. That includes victims of domestic violence who reached out to police for assistance and food vendors caught for not having a seller’s license.
Ammiano’s office said the program has resulted in the deportation of 72,000 people from California since 2009 and that at least 70 percent of them did not have criminal convictions or minor offenses.
In the past two years, the Obama administration has reviewed Secure Communities and introduced a strategy called prosecutorial discretion, which allows ICE to set aside certain deportation cases if the undocumented immigrant is not considered a criminal threat. A group of ICE agents filed a lawsuit challenging prosecutorial discretion, saying that it forces them to perform contradictory functions in their jobs.
AB 1081 is one of three immigration-related bills that have made their way to the governor. The others are:
• Assembly Bill 2189, sponsored by Gil Cedillo, D-Los Angeles. It would allow undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and now qualify for the new federal policy of “deferred action” to also apply for California driver’s licenses. Deferred action grants a two-year waiver from deportation, with possible renewal after that time.
• Assembly Bill 916, sponsored by Manuel Perez, D-Coachella. Called the California Agricultural and Service Worker Act, it would establish a group to study whether to create a program that postpones deportation of agricultural workers who are undocumented.
elizabeth.aguilera @utsandiego.com (619) 293-1717 Twitter: @utsdaguilera