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

More lenient immigration measures, but not all officials feel obligated to comply

The sign at one Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation, June 2011
The sign at one Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation, June 2011
Photo by Pyrat Wesly/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Federal and state officials may be pushing through more lenient immigration policies lately, but this doesn't necessarily mean that officials beneath them plan to comply.

This is what's been happening in Arizona and other states since the Obama administration began accepting applications last week for deferred action, a plan that promises temporary legal status for young undocumented immigrants who qualify. Since last week, Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona and officials in some other states have resisted, saying they won't grant driver's licenses or other benefits to deferred action recipients.

The same sort of resistance, but to a different plan, is now taking shape in California, where a bill known as the TRUST Act (for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”) is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk after clearing the state Assembly last week. The measure proposes placing limits on who local and state cops can hold for immigration authorities, restricting it to only those convicted of a felony or other serious crime. The measure came out of opposition to Secure Communities, a federal immigration enforcement program that allows the fingerprints of people booked by local agencies to be shared with immigration officials.

It's unclear whether Brown will sign; from his record on both immigration and law enforcement, he could go in either direction. In the meantime, there is mounting opposition from some law enforcement officials - among them Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca - who indicate they may not go along if the bill becomes law. From a story in the Los Angeles Times:

Some sheriffs say they may end up disregarding the state law but are waiting to see what the governor will do. Baca has gone a step further, saying that he will respect detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement despite state requirements.

"Our stance is that federal law trumps state law. If it were to move forward, we'd adhere to federal law, so we'd still honor ICE holds," Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Proponents of the TRUST Act, sponsored by Bay Area Democratic Assembly member Tom Ammiano, say it keeps Secure Communities true to its intended mission of netting dangerous criminals for deportation, rather than people with minor infractions. The enforcement program is credited with boosting criminal and non-criminal deportations to record levels, although many those who have landed in deportation as a result have been minor or non-offenders.

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 as with deferred action, which has led officials in some states to insist they will set limits on what public benefits they have control over, the measure does put state officials and local cops who support Secure Communities at odds with the federal government.

Earlier this month, the LA Weekly published a letter addressed to Ammiano from Baca in which Baca criticized the bill. From the letter:

Passage of Assembly Bill 1081 would most likely pit state law against federal law, and under this case, federal law would rule.

There are also a series of proposed regulations that critics say would create additional work for law enforcement, including one requiring agencies that do opt to detain individuals for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have plans in place to rule out racial profiling, and to ensure that crime victims and witnesses would not be discouraged from coming forward.

The text of the TRUST Act can be read here. Gov. Brown has until the end of September to sign.