Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What is the TRUST Act? The bill that would make Secure Communities optional in California

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

A California state bill heard in Sacramento today that challenges the embattled federal immigration enforcement program known as Secure Communities has cleared a public safety committee vote. If it eventually becomes law, the bill would make the participation of local law enforcement in the fingerprint-sharing program optional, removing California counties from the mandatory program temporarily, then allowing them to rejoin voluntarily. The bill has been dubbed the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act, or "TRUST Act."

From the text of AB 1081, introduced earlier this year by Assembly member Tom Ammiano, a Bay Area Democrat, and amended two weeks ago:

Existing law, setting forth the findings and declarations of the

Legislature, provides that all protections, rights, and remedies

available under state law, except any reinstatement remedy prohibited

by federal law, are available to all individuals regardless of

immigration status who have applied for employment, or who are or who

have been employed, within the state, and further provides that, for

purposes of enforcing specified state laws, a person's immigration

status is irrelevant to the issue of liability, and prohibits, in

proceedings or discovery undertaken to enforce those state laws, an

inquiry into a person's immigration status except where the person

seeking to make the inquiry has shown by clear and convincing

evidence that the inquiry is necessary in order to comply with

federal immigration law.

This bill would state the findings and declarations of the

Legislature with respect to a memorandum of agreement with the United

States Department of Homeland Security, regarding the implementation

of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Secure Communities

program, that the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Information

within the Department of Justice entered into on May 8

April 10 , 2009.

The bill would require the

bureau to modify that agreement, according to specified requirements,

or to exercise its authority under the agreement to terminate the


Secure Communities, which began rolling out in 2008, is a fingerprint-sharing program that is used to identify deportable immigrants in the local jail system. When individuals are booked, their fingerprints are submitted not only to criminal record databases, but also to the Homeland Security department’s database of immigration records. If their fingerprints match immigration records, immigration officials are alerted.

The program has been under fire since last year, when several local jurisdictions, including San Francisco, attempted to opt out of the program fearing it might alienate immigrant communities and impede policing. After much back-and-forth, they later learned that they could not. A series of recently-released emails between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and state officials illustrated confusion and miscommunication over the mandatory nature of the program. Some of the emails from federal officials have been criticized by legislators and others as intentionally misleading. U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from San Jose, has called for an investigation.

The program has also been criticized for the wide net it casts: While intended to identify immigrants with criminal background, records have shown a large number of those who land in deportation proceedings as a result to have either no criminal record or a low-level one.

According to ICE, Secure Communities has been implemented throughout California and continues to be rolled out elsewhere, with the program operating in 1,188 jurisdictions in 41 states. It is expected to be in use nationwide by 2013.

Napolitano defended Secure Communities yesterday during a visit to the Bay Area.