While Congress has put comprehensive immigration reform on the back burner, California has moved to block a key federal program that deports immigrants living in the country illegally.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act into law over the weekend. The law prohibits sheriff’s deputies and police officers from complying with requests from immigration authorities to keep people in jail for extra time.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests such holds when it suspects a person could be deportable — even if they’re in custody for minor crimes. The holds are ICE’s primary tool used to deport immigrants under its Secure Communities program.
But opponents of the program said it discourages immigrants from reporting crimes and runs contrary to the federal government’s stated mission to focus on deporting serious criminals.
Angela Chan, a bill supporter and senior staff attorney at Advancing Justice - Asian Law Caucus, estimates that 10,000-20,000 people might avoid deportation because of the new law.
“These are people who either do not have any criminal convictions whatsoever or are arrested on lesser offenses like traffic violations,” Chan said.
The California State Sheriffs' Association opposes the law, although sheriffs in some large counties — like Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca — have come around to supporting the bill.
A spokeswoman for San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said he wanted to talk to the department’s federal partners at ICE before commenting on the new law.
Last week, former Homeland Security Secretary and current University of California president Janet Napolitano told students she supported the TRUST Act.
California is the first state to explicitly prohibit local law enforcement from complying with ICE hold requests.
Brown signed several other bills over the weekend supported by immigration advocacy groups, including two designed to protect immigrants from fraudsters offering legal help with immigration status.
On Monday, the governor vetoed a bill that would have made legal permanent residents eligible for jury duty.