California TRUST Act Moving Toward Passage
August 29, 2013

One afternoon in late June, about a hundred people, mostly young Latinos, marched to Escondido Police Department headquarters. They were kicking off a caravan to Sacramento.

"We're pushing for the governor to sign the TRUST Act this year, because it's important," Viviana Gonzalez, an activist and undocumented immigrant, told the crowd. "Communities like Escondido have seen the brunt of what it means to not have something that protects immigrant families."

In Escondido, collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years. Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.

Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.

Assembly Bill 4, better known as the TRUST Act, is a bill now working its way through the state Legislature that would limit one element of collaboration between federal immigration agents and local law enforcement.

But before explaining how it would work, it helps to know how federal immigration agents get involved after a potentially deportable person is arrested.

At San Diego County's central jail, as in most jails in the state, fingerprints taken during a person's booking process are sent to the FBI, to be run against criminal databases. But since 2009, that information has been sent one other place.

Under the Department of Homeland Security's Secure Communities program, launched in 2008, the FBI now sends information it receives about an arrested individual to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

If ICE believes someone in custody at a local jail may be deportable, it sends what's known as an immigration detainer to that jail, a request asking that the person be held for up to two additional days, until an immigration agent arrives to interview and potentially take that person into federal custody. The program has helped the Obama administration deport nearly 2 million immigrants -- a record.

But if passed, the California TRUST Act would prohibit jails from honoring ICE's request for that two-day hold. Local jails would instead be required to release someone in custody as soon as they've posted bail or become otherwise eligible for release, unless that person has been convicted of certain violent or sex crimes.

Advocates for the bill think this would correct what they believe is a major problem with Secure Communities program.

"The original intent of this program was to focus on people who have serious convictions," said Jon Rodney, of the California Immigrant Policy Center, which has been vocal in its support for the TRUST Act. "But when we look at these hundred thousand Californians who have been deported, we see that about 7 out of 10 did not have what immigration authorities consider to be the most serious offenses."

ICE officials refused to comment for this story, except in a statement saying that their priority is to deport people who pose threats to public safety.

San Diego's police chief, and others across the state, have supported the TRUST Act.

But San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore has not taken a public stance. The state sheriff's association, however, is opposing the bill.

"You get a request from a federal law enforcement agency, and to say that you should basically willfully disobey, or not cooperate, or thwart that request from law enforcement puts local law enforcement in a difficult situation," said Aaron Maguire, the association's lobbyist.

The sheriff's association also wants the TRUST Act's sponsors to amend it so that, in addition to people convicted of violent or sex crimes, people arrested on suspicion of those crimes could also be held on ICE's behalf, as could anyone with a past deportation order issued against them.

The bill as currently written would not allow local law enforcement to honor an ICE detainer for the mere fact of a previous deportation order, because many past deportations were the result of minor infractions.

Felipe Porcayo's 23-year-old son was arrested last year, after a fight broke out at San Diego's Memorial Park.

"The police investigated everything, and they decided that he wasn't involved," Porcayo said one recent evening, standing in the park. "They didn't charge him with anything. But he was deported anyway."

If the TRUST Act passes, those kinds of deportations may be less likely.

In fact, the bill passed the state Legislature last year. But Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it because while it still allowed people with certain serious convictions to be turned over to ICE, some violent crimes were left out.

This year, the bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, has worked with the governor to amend the bill in an effort to ensure the governor's signature. In May, the revised bill passed the Assembly. It now awaits a vote in the Senate before could reach the governor's desk for a second time.