A new version of a California bill that would limit deportation of undocumented immigrants held by police has cleared its third Assembly vote in three years and is on its way to the Senate. But after a previous version was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown last fall, there's no telling how far it will go.
The bill, known as the TRUST Act (an acronym for "Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools"), was approved Thursday 44-22, according to the office of sponsor Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco. Its aim is to limit the state's participation in Secure Communities, a federal program that requires state and local law enforcement to share the fingerprints of people booked in local jails with immigration officials.
In its current version, the bill would restrict who state and local agencies can hold for deportation at the request of immigration officials, limiting it only to those with serious criminal convictions on record. Critics of Secure Communities have long complained that, while the program's intent is to find deportable criminals, it lands too many minor offenders and non-offenders in deportation proceedings.
Two versions of the TRUST Act have cleared the California Assembly since 2011. The original version was quite different: At the time, its goal was to allow California jurisdictions to opt out of Secure Communities. That goal became moot when U.S. Immigration and Customs Director John Morton rescinded the confusing contracts by which states had agreed to participate in Secure Communities. The federal agency continued to insist that Secure Communities was not optional for local agencies.
The second version, which made it to Brown's desk last year, was similar to the one voted on today, but contained additional regulations, including one that would have required state and local agencies to create plans for preventing racial profiling. Critics of the bill argued this would burden law enforcement with extra work.
In spirit, the bill has much in common with a recent directive from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, who in a bulletin to law enforcement last December advised that agencies aren't legally obligated to hold immigrants at the federal government's behest.
Harris's bulletin stated that "individual federal detainers are requests, not commands" to local agencies, and that those agencies should "make their own determination of whether to use their resources to hold suspected unlawfully present immigrants." It read:
Several local law enforcement agencies appear to treat immigration detainers, sometimes called “ICE holds,” as mandatory orders. But immigration detainers are not compulsory. Instead, they are merely requests enforceable at the discretion of the agency holding the individual arrestee.
At the time, some California law enforcement leaders, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, said they would adjust their policies accordingly. But because Harris' guidance is discretionary, agencies aren't applying it evenly, said Carlos Alcalá, a spokesman for Ammiano.
"We need to establish something statewide, so there are understandable rules," Alcalá said.
Gov. Brown's office hasn't indicated whether the governor will support the measure this time. In his veto statement last year, Brown wrote that while he was unwilling to sign the bill as written, that the "significant flaws in this bill can be fixed."
It now goes to the Senate for a committee vote.
This story has been updated.