By Samantha Bartholomew
California lawmakers passed a “sanctuary state” bill to protect immigrants without legal residency in the United States on Sept. 16.
Senate Bill 54 would prevent state and local agencies from complying with any “hold requests” to detain immigrants, for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It would also prohibit state and local agencies from using their facilities, property, equipment or personnel for immigration enforcement and from spending money on it.
The agencies would be barred from performing actions such as collecting information about a person’s immigration status, responding to notification or transfer requests from federal immigration agencies and arresting people based on civil immigration warrants.
The state Department of Justice would have to publish policies outlining what state and local law enforcement agencies can and can’t do to assist federal officials.
It would also create “safe zones” for undocumented individuals by requiring all public schools, public libraries, courthouses and health facilities run by state or local government to implement those policies or “equivalent” regulations, though they would not have to be approved by the state.
The bill, which takes effect in Jan., has been blasted as “unconscionable” by U.S. Att. Gen. Jeff Sessions, becoming the focus of a national debate over how far states and cities can go to prevent their officers from enforcing federal immigration laws. Supporters have hailed it as part of a broader effort by majority Democrats in the California legislature to shield more than 2.3 million immigrants living in California.
Brown took the unusual step of writing a signing message in support of SB 54. He called the legislation a balanced measure that would allow police and sheriff’s agencies to continue targeting dangerous criminals, while protecting hard working families without legal residency in the country.
Legal experts have said federal officials may try to block the law in court to keep it from being implemented. Some doubt such challenges would be successful, pointing to the 10th Amendment and previous rulings in which courts have found the federal government cannot compel local authorities to enforce federal laws.
Brown’s decision comes as local and state governments are locked in legal battles with Sessions over his move to slash federal grant funding from “sanctuary jurisdictions,” where city and county agencies are limited when working with federal immigration officials. A Chicago federal judge largely blocked Sessions’ effort just hours before SB 54 cleared the legislature on Sept. 16.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has determined it would take a one-time cost of $2.7 million and ongoing costs of $2.3 million per year for the state to develop compliance policies, provide training and outreach to state agencies and compile task force reports as required by Senate Bill 54.
Other federal officials also have sounded off against SB 54, suggesting immigration is tied to increases in violent crime, a case that has been claimed by President Donald Trump multiple times throughout his political endeavors.
One of the president’s earliest executive orders put cities and counties on alert that they would lose federal funding if law enforcement did not cooperate with immigration agents.
The new law will largely prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using either personnel or funds to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents unless those individuals have been convicted of one or more offenses from a list of 800 crimes outlined in a 2013 state law.
Supporters of the bill are urging opponents of the bill to move away from embracing Trump’s rhetoric, which they say stereotypes immigrants as criminals, and are pointing to studies that reflect low crime rates in immigrant communities