How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

What exactly does the TRUST Act do?

Photo by 888bailbonds/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Los Angeles County prisoner bus, June 2009.

A measure approved by the California Senate yesterday that some have nicknamed the "anti-Arizona" bill has made headlines today. But some of these have been more confusing than others, so it's time for a brief dissection of what's known as the TRUST Act.

In a nutshell, what the bill does is propose restrictions on the cooperation between local/state law enforcement agencies and federal immigration agents, with its intended goal to shrink the net cast by the federal Secure Communities program. Local and state officers in California would only be able to hold immigrants convicted of felonies and other serious crimes for immigration agents, as opposed to how it works now, where anyone can be held.

What the bill doesn't quite do is "override" Secure Communities, an enforcement program that allows fingerprints of people booked by local and state cops to be shared with immigration agents. Nor does it create a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants who lack serious criminal records in the sense they might have any sort of protection from the law. Nor does it, beyond the nickname, have anything to do with Arizona.

Here's the gist of what the bill, officially known as the TRUST Act (it stands for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”) proposes:

This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, unless the local agency adopts a plan that meets certain requirements prior to or after compliance with the immigration hold, and, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, certain conditions are met.

First, the conditions:




An individual shall not be detained by a law enforcement official on the basis of an immigration hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, unless, at the time the individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, both of the following conditions are satisfied:

(a) The individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony, according to a criminal background check or documentation provided to the law enforcement official by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

(b) The continued detention of the individual on the basis of the immigration hold would not violate any federal, state, or local law, or any local policy.





And the plans that local agencies detaining individuals for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would need to have in place:

The legislative body of the local agency of the jurisdiction that the individual is being detained in shall, prior to or after complying with an immigration hold, adopt a plan that monitors and guards against all of the following:

(1) A United States citizen being detained pursuant to an immigration hold.
(2) Racial profiling.
(3) Victims and witnesses to crime being discouraged from reporting crimes.


The bill isn't quite a rollback to pre-Secure Communities days, as it's working with (or around, as some critics might say) the existing federal policy. But the stated goal of the federal policy itself is netting immigrants with serious criminal records for deportation; this goal was written into state “memorandum of understanding” contracts, or MOAs, that were signed by state and federal officials after Secure Communities first launched in late 2008.

For example, the MOA between Homeland Security and the California Department of Justice, signed in January 2009, reads that the program would “enhance immigration enforcement by using biometric technology to more accurately identify criminal aliens and apply risk-based methodologies to more efficiently remove high-risk convicted aliens.”

Much of the controversy surrounding Secure Communities stems from criticism that it lands too many non-criminals or minor offenders in deportation, and in the process alienates immigrant communities. Last August, as some state governors were threatening to pull out of the program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton rescinded the state contracts, essentially forcing states’ cooperation. Since then, some states and jurisdictions have been weighing alternatives for limiting their participation, including California.

The current TRUST Act is a heavily amended version of a bill that passed in the Assembly last year; Assembly member Tom Ammiano, a Bay Area Democrat, reworded it after the ICE decision last August to reflect mandatory participation, with the idea now being for local cops to work with ICE as required, but with the proposed restrictions limiting who they can hold.

The bill cleared the Senate 21-13 yesterday. It now heads to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before moving on to the governor's desk.

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