California one step closer to 'sanctuary state' despite threats from Trump admin
The state Senate passed the controversial Senate Bill 54 (SB54) in a 27-12 vote along party lines on Monday. If the bill becomes law, it would make California a sanctuary state for illegal immigrants. The legislation was a direct response to President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown and administration threats against sanctuary jurisdictions.
The passage of SB54, known as the California Values Act, as well as two other immigration bills, “is a rejection of President Trump’s false and cynical portrayal of undocumented residents as a lawless community,” Senate leader Kevin de León said in a statement.
Sanctuary jurisdictions limit or prohibit cooperation between local law enforcement and the federal government on undocumented immigrants, even after federal immigration enforcement issues a detainer requesting that an immigrant be held. California has the greatest number of such jurisdictions in the US.
Trump made dealing with illegal immigrants ‒ whom he variously referred to as “bad hombres,” “rapists” and “murderers” ‒ a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. Five days after entering the White House, he signed an executive order that aimed to empower US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other federal agencies to “unapologetically enforce the law, no ifs ands or buts,” according to White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
On March 27, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced action against sanctuary cities, saying that states and local jurisdictions must prove compliance with immigration laws before they can be eligible for $4.1 billion in Department of Justice grants. The DOJ will also “claw back” grants to jurisdictions that do not comply with the law. Three days later, Seattle sued the federal government, claiming the executive order is unconstitutional, and other jurisdictions have since joined the suit as plaintiffs.
Opponents of the California bill decried the coming showdown with the Trump administration over the policy if it becomes law.
"By passing this today you'll be kicking the president right in the groin, and I can imagine he's going to strike back," said Republican Sen. Jeff Stone, according to AP.
Proponents argue that Trump’s claim that sanctuary cities “breed crime” is untrue. An October study by the University of California, Riverside and Highline College found that there was no evidence that sanctuary cities have higher crime rates. Another study, published by the Center for American Progress in January, analyzed FBI crime data and found that sanctuary areas actually have approximately 15 percent lower rates of all types of crime than similar non-sanctuary jurisdictions.
Supporters of the California bill also argue that forcing local law enforcement to comply with federal immigration requests places an additional burden on already-overtaxed agencies. SB54 does allow exceptions for local police to transfer illegal immigrants who have a federal judicial warrant or who have previously been convicted of a felony.
"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. “Trust will be lost. Crimes will go unreported for fear of deportation. Criminals will remain free to victimize others.”
The bill passed after de León amended it to allow state and local law enforcement agencies to notify ICE agents before releasing felons convicted of serious or violent crimes.
"We will cooperate with our friends at the federal level with serious and violent felons. But we won't cooperate or lift a finger or spend a single cent when we're talking about separating children from their mothers, mothers from their children," he said at a press conference after the passage. "That's not who we are as a great state."
On Monday, the Senate also passed SB6 by a 28-11 vote, which would create a $12 million legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation, and unanimously passed SB31, which would prohibit state and local agencies from disclosing information about residents’ religious affiliation to federal agencies that would be used to compile a database for law enforcement or immigration purposes. If SB54 passes the Democratic-majority Assembly and is signed by Governor Jerry Brown (D-California), it would take effect on January 1.