California Senate OKs 'Sanctuary' State Bill; Critics Fear Losing Federal Money

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A man is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents early on Oct. 14, 2015, in Los Angeles. (John Moore/Getty Images)

California's Senate passed a bill late Monday that would make the state a "sanctuary state," under which local and state law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from using their resources to help federal immigration officials.

The legislation, Senate Bill 54, passed despite last week's announcement by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that sanctuary jurisdictions risk losing federal money. During the Senate debate, the bill's author said he wasn't deterred by Sessions' remarks.

“We’re the great state of California. We don’t grovel and put our hand out so we can get a little budget money, so we can buy a police car," said Kevin de León, a Democrat. "That’s not who we are as a great state. Our role and responsibility is to protect all individuals and make sure our communities are safer.”

But critics like Republican Sen. John Moorlach said California can’t afford to anger the federal government.

“California has a very precarious budget," he said. "It has major unfunded liabilities. It has major retiree medical expenses. It has severe infrastructure concerns. We just don’t need to jeopardize a funding source from the federal government.”


The bill, which now heads to the Assembly for approval, has been amended to allow for some communication between state and local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration authorities. But law enforcement groups say it’s still too restrictive.

An additional amendment would allow people who have previously been deported for violent felonies to be turned over to immigration officials. But Republican Sen. Pat Bates said that amendment doesn't go far enough.

"I remain concerned about the criminals charged with crimes such as stalking, human trafficking, felony child abuse, domestic violence, Bates said. "And I can't believe any of us really want to allow these individuals to remain in our communities and stay in our country after committing such heinous crimes."

But de León countered that his bill would make the state safer.

"Undocumented residents commit crimes and are incarcerated at a lower rate than native-born residents," he said. "Counties with sanctuary policies are safer and economically better off than comparable non-sanctuary counties."

The bill now moves to the Assembly. Gov. Jerry Brown has not publicly said whether he'll sign the legislation should it reach his desk.

Several other states have recently taken steps similar to de Leon's bill, with the governors of Oregon and Washington recently signing executive orders declaring their states as "sanctuary" states.