In California, ‘sanctuary state’ and other immigration bills face surprising opposition

Published on August 9th, 2017

By: Kathy Murphy
August 9, 2017
The Mercury News

SACRAMENTO — Soon after President Donald Trump’s election, California lawmakers began rolling out legislation to fight the president’s promised crackdown on illegal immigration. They released bills to blacklist companies involved in Trump’s proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall project, protect undocumented children in schools, and bar the use of local and state police resources for federal immigration enforcement.

But after a rapid-fire start, the Legislature’s Trump resistance has slowed to a plodding pace. Both border-wall bills died — the “Resist the Wall Act” never had a committee hearing — and with just four weeks left in the Legislative session, much of the immigration-related legislation is still pending. That includes the highly publicized Senate Bill 54 — better known as the “sanctuary state” bill — which a powerful law enforcement group is fighting hard.

The California State Sheriffs’ Association is pressing lawmakers to defeat the bill by Senate Leader Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, while urging Gov. Jerry Brown not to sign it if it passes in its current form, the group’s leaders told reporters Tuesday.

“This is not a fait accompli,” said Bill Brown, Santa Barbara County Sheriff and president of the state association, during the teleconference. “There are many members of the Assembly who are not comfortable with this legislation.” The bill has already passed the Senate.

As the fate of immigration legislation comes down to the wire — and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ramps up pressure on so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions, such as San Jose and Oakland, to cooperate with federal immigration agents — immigration advocates are watching closely, hoping that the proposals introduced with fanfare months ago become law. Those on both sides of the “sanctuary state” debate have been trying to read the tea leaves ever since Brown, who rarely discusses pending legislation, told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press” over the weekend that he wanted changes made to SB 54, alluding to public safety concerns.

“The goal here is to block and not to collaborate with abuse of federal power,” Brown said. “It is a balancing act. It does require some sensitivity. And that’s why I take a more nuanced and careful approach to dealing with what is a difficult problem. Because you do have people who are not here legally, they’ve committed crimes. They have no business in the United States in the manner in which they’ve come and conducted themselves subsequently.”

SB 54 would limit communication between law enforcement officers and federal immigration agents, a step immigration advocates say is necessary to ease deportation fears and prevent the Trump administration from relying on local police to carry out the millions of deportations that the president has promised. The bill has been amended to create exceptions for serious and violent crimes, but opponents say it doesn’t cover enough offenses. They argue that California already places restrictions on such collaboration, and that the new bill would make it even harder for the feds to apprehend suspects before they are released from a county jail.

Brown’s office wouldn’t elaborate on the kinds of amendments he is seeking, and de León’s office declined to comment about the state of negotiations with Brown.

Jon Rodney from the California Immigrant Policy Center, which advocates for undocumented immigrants, said “the jury is out” on state leaders’ commitment to shield the undocumented from stepped-up enforcement activities. He accused the sheriff’s association of using “fear-mongering” against immigrants to make its case.

“I think it’s really an attempt to bully our governor and our leaders to weaken the bill,” he said, “and we have to stand up to bigotry and zealotry.” 

Rob Bonata
Assemblyman Rob Bonta thinks compromise on the sanctuary state bill is possible.
 (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, a co-author of SB 54, said it could be an encouraging sign that the governor is involved in discussions about the bill, and that he is confident they will reach a good compromise. “I think there’s a sweet spot in there,” he said.

Bonta predicted that the Legislature will deliver on this and other bills that arose from fears of stepped-up immigration raids. They include: Assembly Bill 291, by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, which would prevent landlords from using a tenant’s immigration status against them; Assembly Bill 450, by Chiu, to provide workplace protections for undocumented workers; and Assembly Bill 699, by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, which would require schools to protect undocumented schoolchildren by requiring a judicial warrant from immigration officers, among other measures.

But bills that would have levied economic sanctions against companies that help build the border wall that Trump proposed erecting between the U.S. and Mexico will not become law.

That’s not too surprising, said Louis DeSipio, a political science professor at UC Irvine. “They probably very quickly found that those companies are pretty entangled with other business in the state,” he said.

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