State senate passes bill limiting obligation to detain immigrants

Participation in ICE's Secure Communities program would become optional

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A bill that would limit California law enforcement’s cooperation with certain federal immigration policies passed the state Senate Thursday.

The TRUST Act — Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools — would make it easier for statewide law enforcement agencies to opt out of a program requiring them to detain immigrants who have not committed felonies or other serious crimes for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill was originally introduced last year by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, and passed by both the California State Assembly and the Senate Public Safety Committee. The current act, heavily amended since it was originally introduced, was written in response to a controversial program launched through ICE in 2008 called Secure Communities.

“I think it will be something that will hopefully lessen the fear in immigrant communities,” said Aarti Kohli, senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at the UC Berkeley School of Law. “There’s a lot of fear that interacting with local police will lead to deportation.”

Through Secure Communities, detainees’ fingerprints are run through the federal database, which then sends the data to ICE even if the person has no criminal history. If there is a fingerprint match, ICE would review databases to determine if the individual is removable.

According to Tiffany Mok, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, local law enforcement usually holds an individual for up to 48 hours while waiting for an ICE detainer.

But two weeks ago, the Berkeley Police Department announced it will not honor its agreement with ICE to hold illegal immigrants who are being detained for minor offenses.

Berkeley City Council voted to send the policy to the city manager to review specifics of what qualifies as a criminal act. The policy will be presented to the council again in September, when, according to Councilmember Jesse Arreguin, it is likely to pass.

If the TRUST Act is passed, Berkeley’s policy will work concurrently on a citywide level.

“Over 70 percent who have been deported were convicted of low-level crimes,” Arreguin said. “We’re not going to hand them to ICE … The TRUST Act is a really important bill to ensure justice and fairness. It balances policies to protect public safety with the need to make sure our immigrant communities are not being targeted.”

The bill is also known as the “anti-Arizona law,” in reference to the Arizona law allowing police in Arizona to investigate an individual’s citizenship based on “reasonable suspicion.”

“(The) vote signals to the nation that California cannot afford to be another Arizona,” Ammiano said in a press release.

Berkeley council members also rallied in opposition by voting to boycott businesses headquartered in Arizona and have continued to uphold the resolution since 2010.

“(The boycott) is to send a message to the governor of Arizona that these policies that criminalize immigrants, that promote racial profiling, that really create fear and division in the community, are the wrong ways to go,” Arreguin said.

However, other groups, such as the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the Center for Immigration Studies, have been critical of the legislation.

According to Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., the act is based on many faulty misconceptions and would make it harder for local police and federal authorities to remove criminals.

“It’s a big mistake to pick and choose which criminal aliens are going to be held for ICE,” Vaughan said. “It makes much more sense for ICE to make that decision based on what they know about the immigrant’s background.”

According to Vaughan, in many cases, illegal immigrants still have due process and are entitled to make their case before an immigration judge.

The bill will go back to the state Assembly for a concurrence vote after summer recess ends in August, and then to Gov. Jerry Brown for a final decision.

“The most important thing now is contacting the governor and urging him to sign the bill,” Arreguin said.