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BART Directors Propose Immigration Sanctuary In Transit

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A BART train near the system's Rockridge Station in Oakland.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Two members of BART's Board of Directors want to limit cooperation between the transit agency's police department and federal authorities in the enforcement of immigration laws.

The proposal, by directors Lateefah Simon and Nick Josefowitz, could mark the first sanctuary-in-transit agency in the nation that crosses through multiple counties. And it would throw BART into what's become an increasing national debate over sanctuary jurisdictions.

"If our system can mirror some of the best cities and municipalities in this country that are standing up to hate and xenophobia ... we want to be on the right side of history," Simon said at Thursday's meeting.

Dozens of sanctuary cities and counties in California and the rest of the country refuse many requests from federal immigration authorities to detain, pursue or report undocumented immigrants. A recent executive order signed by President Trump threatens to cut billions of dollars in federal funds from sanctuary cities.

In response, Santa Clara County and San Francisco have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration.

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Simon and Josefowitz have asked BART staff to look into further limiting cooperation between the transit district's police department and the federal government in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

They want BART to join other cities in the agency's service area in limiting information about undocumented immigrants shared directly or indirectly with federal authorities.

"Recent studies indicate that there are over 500,000 undocumented immigrants living in the Bay Area. Many of these immigrants ride BART every day," Josefowitz said during Thursday's meeting.

"When local law enforcement focuses on keeping communities safe, rather than becoming entangled in federal immigration enforcement efforts, communities are safer and community members stay more engaged in the local economy," he said.

The move would amend two sections of BART's police code: one on when "foreign nationals" are arrested or detained, and another section on immigration violations. There are currently regulations that limit cooperation with federal authorities on immigration cases (these are Sections 422 and 428 of the department's policy manual). This proposal would strengthen those rules.

Their proposal comes days after an interview President Trump did with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly where he reiterated his desire to punish the state of California and local governments that aim to restrict their local law enforcement from enforcing federal immigration law.

"I think it's ridiculous, sanctuary cities. As you know I'm very much opposed to sanctuary cities. They breed crime," Trump said.

"There's lots of problems. If we have to, we'll defund. We give tremendous amounts to California. California in many ways is out of control, as you know. Obviously, the voters agree. Otherwise they wouldn't have voted for me," Trump said.

BART received more than $99 million in federal funds for the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

Trump's assertion that sanctuary jurisdictions breed crime is contrary to at least one study. According to research by a professor at UC San Diego, crime is significantly lower in counties that do not cooperate with federal law enforcement, compared with those that do.

The BART Police Department does not have any records of their officers reporting anyone to federal immigration authorities in the past six years, according to agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost.

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