In August, after the federal government rescinded state contracts related to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, those states that at the time were trying to opt out of the controversial fingerprint-sharing program seemed to have little choice but to comply.
But there's another option, at least according to a California state legislator who is retooling a bill from last year to allow for another kind of out: Restricting how law enforcement agencies hold immigrants for deportation at the request of federal immigration officials.
The yet-to-be-introduced California bill is a retooled version of the TRUST Act, a measure approved last May by the state Assembly that would have allowed the state to renegotiate its contract with the feds and allowed local jurisdictions to opt out of Secure Communities if they wanted to. It had begun moving through the Senate when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton sent a letter to state governors terminating the contracts, whose language did not suggest the program was mandatory.
Here's how Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for bill sponsor and Assembly member Tom Ammiano, described the retooled legislation in an email:
We are in the midst of finalizing the exact language, but right now it will likely create thresholds and standards for local jurisdictions around ICE detainers. The bill will likely create a baseline for local governments not to expend resources on responding to ICE holds and detaining people for deportation, unless the individual had a serious or violent felony conviction.
Jurisdictions that do choose to detain people on the basis of immigration status will need to come up with common-sense plans to guard against profiling and wrongful detentions of citizens.
In a recent story the Los Angeles Times quoted Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco:
"States have their own ways of fighting back," Ammiano said. "We can't stand by and let innocent people, food vendors, etc., be caught up in sweeps, assume they're guilty of some violent offense and then deport them and separate them from their families."
The bill would be better met in some jurisdictions than others, such as in San Francisco, where Sheriff Michael Hennessey announced last spring that he would not hold arrestees for ICE. Some state, local and law enforcement officials have spoken out against Secure Communities, saying it alienates immigrant communities and thus impedes policing. But other jurisdictions have been supportive of the program, and the proposed additional regulations for those who do choose to hold prisoners for immigration officials are not bound to go over well in some local agencies.
Los Angeles' law enforcement principals have been split over Secure Communities: Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has voiced misgivings, but county Sheriff Lee Baca is a supporter.
Mecke said the timeline for reintroducing what's being called "TRUST Act 2.0" is still fluid, but that it will be sometime this spring.