Gov. Brown Signs 'Sanctuary State' Bill, Setting Up Standoff With Trump Administration

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Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) made passing Senate Bill 54 his main legislative priority after Trump's election.  (Max Whittaker/KQED)

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Thursday that will severely limit California law enforcement's ability to work with federal immigration enforcement officials, making California a so-called sanctuary state and setting up perhaps the state's most intense standoff with the Trump administration to date.

"This action protects public safety and ensures hard-working people who contribute to our state are respected," Brown said in a written statement.

President Trump made cracking down on sanctuary cities — like San Francisco — a campaign promise and has moved to cut off some federal law enforcement grants from jurisdictions that restrict their police and sheriffs from working with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). So far, his efforts have been halted by courts, but several lawsuits are still working their way through the system.

If the Trump administration is successful in taking away that money, California law enforcement agencies could lose around $18 million.

The state  bill doesn't go as far as supporters had wanted. Brown worked to narrow the original measure by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León  after law enforcement officers — particularly sheriffs — raised concerns that Senate Bill 54 would prevent them from protecting their communities from dangerous criminals.

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In a signing message, Brown said the bill "strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day."

"In enshrining these new protections, it is important to note what the bill does not do. This bill does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way," Brown wrote. "They are free to use their own considerable resources to enforce federal immigration law in California."

Ultimately, the legislation expands on previous restrictions aimed at protecting undocumented Californians from deportation, completely barring  immigration holds — a practice where local jails are asked to keep someone in their custody on behalf of ICE who’s otherwise eligible for release. But it also gives sheriffs some latitude over when they can talk to immigration officials about somebody in their custody, if that person has been convicted of one of some 800 crimes in the past 15 years.

Devin M. O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, slammed the governor's decision in a written statement.

“The state of California has now codified a commitment to returning criminal aliens back onto our streets, which undermines public safety, national security, and law enforcement," he said. "Given the multiple high-profile incidents that have occurred in California in recent years, it is especially disappointing that state leaders have made it law to limit cooperation between local jurisdictions and immigration authorities attempting to keep Californians safe.”

But de León said the bill is about more than just California, and said that while the measure won't provide "full sanctuary" to undocumented immigrants in the state, "it will put a kink in Trump’s perverse and inhumane deportation machine."

“The signing of SB 54 comes at a critical time in our nation’s history. With the election of Donald Trump, we have witnessed a growing racial divide we have not seen in decades. Over and over again the president has deployed fear and division to advance his ambitions. The result of this constant barrage of dog whistles is a sickening rise in racism turning American against American," he said. “[California] simply will not divert its public safety assets to stalk law-abiding immigrants and undermine the safety in our communities in the process."