Not Waiting for The Reform, California Takes Steps on Immigration Law
By: Adrien Medvei, Esq.
In 2009, Los Angeles County became one of the first in the nation to partner with ICE in a program called Secure Communities, which allows federal agents to access the fingerprints of anyone who has been arrested to see if he or she is subject to deportation. This partnership led to the transfer of nearly 20,000 inmates from jails in L.A. County to ICE custody in 2011. Those transferred, mostly Hispanic males who had committed nonviolent crimes, spent an average of 39 days in custody. In its first three years, the program led to the deportation of nearly 12,000 people, nearly half of whom had no convictions or had committed misdemeanors.
But the new Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act, known as the Trust Act and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on October, 5, 2013 aims to limit ICE’s power to hold and deport minor offenders, a reform long sought by both immigrant-rights advocates and law-enforcement officers. Secure Communities was created to target immigrants who committed serious crimes, but in reality, ICE used the program to place a hold on traffic violators. Under the Trust Act, only serious offenders or those with violent pasts may be turned over to ICE. According to one projection, the bill could stop 10,000 to 20,000 Californians from being deported in the next year.
Several California law-enforcement agencies decided to support the Trust Act, hoping it would improve relationships between officers and the communities they are meant to serve.San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne said that residents in his city are reluctant to report crimes or call on police because of deportation fears. “In communities where there is a fear of deportation of family members, there’s a reluctance to step forward,” he said.
Two days before on October 3, 2013, Governor Brown traveled to Los Angeles to publicly sign a bill granting licenses to undocumented drivers. The state has until the beginning of 2015 to set up the new licenses. In addition to granting the licenses, the law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone because they have the special licenses, and specifically prohibits police from investigating or arresting someone for immigration violations because they have the illegal immigrant license.
On October 5, 2013 Governor Brown signed the Trust Act as well as a series of other immigrant-related bills, including making it a crime for an employer to “induce fear” by threatening to report workers to ICE.
“While Washington waffles on immigration, California’s forging ahead.” Brown said in signing the Trust Act.
The Trust Act is California’s response to tough laws in states like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia that restrict the rights of those in the United States illegally and encourage local officers to check the immigration status of people stopped for minor infractions. With national comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress, the California law marks the boldest move yet by a state to restrict the reach of federal agencies to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Now other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have either begun or are considering legislative action on versions of the Trust Act. The Trust Act in California goes into effect on January 1, 2014.
Of course, acts by states do not replace the need for comprehensive immigration reform and we still remain hopeful that something will pass this year.
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