Assembly Approves Controversial 'Sanctuary State' Bill

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An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer guards a group of 116 Salvadorean immigrants waiting to be deported. Under SB54, California won't let local police or sheriff's work with ICE in most circumstances.  (Jose Cabezas/AFP/Getty Images)

Update: Saturday, September 16, 1:45 a.m. 

The State Senate gave final passage to the legislature's 'Sanctuary State' bill in the early hours of Saturday morning.

"Californians will not squander public safety dollars to tear families apart," said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, the bill's author.

Debate on the bill, which will limit how local officials can communicate and cooperate with federal immigration enforcement, was delayed for hours. The Assembly passed the measure in the afternoon, but the bill wasn't  taken up in the Senate until around 1:15 a.m.

Conversations with the Assembly dragged on over a variety of measures, and a brief procedural panic ensued when the Senate's work slipped past its midnight deadline.


The vote on SB 54 wasn't quite as dramatic: the bill sailed to the Governor Jerry Brown's desk on a 27-11 party-line vote, with no Republicans supporting the measure.

“It shields much more than dreamers,” said Senator Joel Anderson, R-San Diego. “It continues to shield criminals in our jails.”

The Governor is expected to sign the measure.

Original Post: 

It was 10 months in the making -- and the final version was a lot weaker than many immigration advocates had pushed for -- but lawmakers on Friday finally passed a bill that will severely curtail California law enforcement's ability to work with federal immigration officials.

Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to sign Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon's final legislation, Senate Bill 54, after some law enforcement groups removed their opposition. But it remains unclear how the Trump administration -- which has moved to restrict federal law enforcement grants to cities and counties with so-called sanctuary policies and is being sued by the state and others -- will respond when the bill becomes law.

That uncertainty didn't phase most supporters of the bill. It was approved by the state Assembly on a 49-25 vote Friday, and faces one more procedural vote in the Senate today before it can be sent to Brown.

Sacramento Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty said while opponents say SB54 isn't needed because police in California aren't enforcing immigration laws, that's not always the case. He cited Juana Reyes, a woman who was arrested by sheriff’s deputies in Sacramento several years ago for selling tamales outside a Walmart and was handed over to ICE.

"That’s what this bill is focusing about, laying out the rules of California and our values, which is that serious offenses should be taken serious, but we should not go after individuals who are living their lives here, going about their daily business," he said.

The final legislation was the result of months of intense negotiations between lawmakers, the governor and law enforcement groups who were concerned that the bill would tie their hands and prevent them from keeping the public safe.

Advocates, meanwhile, had pushed for the strongest possible protections for immigrants who come in contact with police, saying public safety is at risk if immigrant communities don't trust law enforcement.

After a number of changes allowing exceptions to the initially proposed all-out ban on communication between local agencies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the association representing police chiefs agreed not to oppose the legislation. Several other law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriff's Association, remained opposed, but with the majority of their concerns addressed, Brown said he'd back the bill.

The final bill prohibits all law enforcement from using their own resources to enforce immigration laws. It forbids sheriffs -- who run jails in California -- from holding someone in jail past their release date for ICE, and limits when sheriffs officials may talk to immigration officials. Under the final bill, that communication is barred unless an inmate has been convicted of one of some 800 crimes in the past 15 years.

An immigrant detainee looks out from his 'segregation cell' at California's Adelanto Detention Facility.
An immigrant detainee looks out from his 'segregation cell' at California's Adelanto Detention Facility. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The bill also bars California police from participating in joint task forces if the main purpose is immigration enforcement. It prohibits them from sharing personal information with ICE but will allow the agency to access state databases.

Its provisions do not apply to state prison officials.

Angela Chan, an immigration lawyer with the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, has been working for nearly a decade to limit police and ICE cooperation. Chan said while she and others had hoped for an all-out ban on talking to or working with ICE, this is the most sweeping limits achieved since she began working on the issue in 2008. She said the impact will be felt most significantly in counties that don't have sanctuary protections already.

"Overall, when you look at the bill it does make a significant impact in increasing protections for immigrants," she said. "I think it's really important to have SB54, even with the amendments. In most counties, there are no protections against entanglements with ICE."

Still, she said there's more to be done.

"I'm glad for the significant step we made this year, it does cover a lot of different pieces, but because it's not everything we'd hoped for, we do have a lot more work to do in (the) future," Chan said.

Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown, president of the Sheriff's Association, said his group still opposes the measure because they don't want any restrictions on sheriff's department's ability to communicate with ICE. Brown said while he's grateful to the governor for his work on expanding the list of exceptions to that ban, he still wanted it to go further.

Brown said sheriffs have no interest in acting as an arm of immigration authorities by making arrests based purely on someone's immigration status.

But, he said, "we still feel that limiting our mandate to be able to communicate with another law enforcement agency is not something we can support."

Brown said when someone who is not here legally is a judged by police to be a danger, calling ICE to remove them from that community should be allowed.