California legislature passes bill to ease deportations

As California’s legislative session races to the finish line this week, three bills to ease restrictions on the state’s undocumented immigrants are making headlines.

The TRUST Act, AB 1081, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has already passed both legislative houses. Governor Jerry Brown has not yet indicated whether he will sign it.

AB 1081 would lower the level of California’s cooperation with the federal Secure Communities (S-COMM) program. Under it, California law enforcement agencies would only honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requests to hold detainees who had been convicted of felonies or other serious crimes.

Observers say this would return S-COMM to its original stated goal of dealing with violent and serious criminal immigrants.

Now, when law enforcement agencies in the state share fingerprints of arrestees with ICE and ICE finds a match, it asks the agencies to hold the immigrant, supposedly for two days but often much longer.

The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department recently found that immigrants held after an ICE request stayed in custody about 20 days longer than they otherwise would have, costing the county over $26 million annually.

Since the S-COMM program started in 2009, over 75,000 people have been deported from California; nearly 70 percent had no or only minor criminal convictions.

AB 1081 passed both legislative houses on partisan lines, with some members of each party abstaining.

The TRUST Act is supported by the state’s Catholic bishops, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Santa Clara County’s sheriff, and Oakland and Palo Alto police chiefs. LA County Sheriff Lee Baca and other California sheriffs threaten to defy it.

The issue hit the news cycle earlier in the summer when Juana Reyes-Hernandez was picked up by police as she sold home-made tamales in a Sacramento Walmart parking lot despite warnings about trespassing. The single mother of two, in the U.S. for 15 years with no criminal record, was jailed for nearly two weeks, and her children were put into foster care.

Reyes no longer faces deportation, after the trespass charge was dismissed and an immigration judge closed her case.

Speaking on radio station KPFA Aug. 27, Ammiano referred to Reyes’ situation, saying “we’re asking the ICE agents to distinguish between someone like her and some of the more serious gang members, people who do have felonies on the record.” He called the matter both a fiscal issue and a “moral imperative to watch out for the people in our state” who contribute greatly to its economy.

Two other immigrant rights measures were introduced into the legislature at the last minute, late last week. Each would have to pass both legislative houses by Aug. 31 to move to the governor’s desk for signature.

One, by state Senator Gilbert Cedillo, D-Los Angeles, would let young undocumented “DREAMers” eligible for President Obama’s deferred action program apply for driver’s licenses. Under AB 2189 applicants could present any federal document they receive under the federal program as proof of legal presence for the purpose of applying for a driver’s license.

Cedillo has worked for years to reinstate undocumented immigrants’ eligibility for California driver’s licenses, banned by law in 1993.

The other, the “Safe Harbor” bill, by Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Sylmar, would create a five-year pilot program to allow undocumented immigrants who pay state taxes to receive state protection from federal immigration enforcement. Supporters say the measure would net the state some $325 million in revenue. For the program to take effect, federal authorities would have to agree to place the immigrants in the lowest category of enforcement.

Photo: Marilyn Bechtel/PW


Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986 and currently participates as a volunteer. Marilyn Bechtel escribe desde el Área de la Bahía de San Francisco. Se unió al personal de PW en 1986 y actualmente participa como voluntaria.