How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

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


Photo by Pyrat Wesly/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The sign at one Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department substation, June 2011

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.


California's 'anti-Arizona' immigration bill on way to governor's desk


Art by José Luís Agapito/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A California bill that would limit the extent to which local and state cops cooperate with federal immigration officials is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk after clearing a final Assembly vote.

Approved in June by the state Senate, the measure nicknamed the “anti-Arizona” bill cleared an Assembly concurrence vote this morning 48-26. Better known as the TRUST Act (it stands for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”), it has nothing to do with Arizona, but here is what the bill proposes for California:

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.


Secure Communities: How much latitude do states have?

The back-and-forth between the federal government and states over the federal Secure Communities immigration enforcement program goes back a long way, with controversy and confusion that began brewing shortly after the program first began rolling out in late 2008.

First there was confusion over the voluntary-vs.-mandatory nature of the program, through which the fingerprints of people booked by local and state cops are entered into a database that allows them to be shared not only with the FBI, but with immigration officials. Next, after several state and local leaders tried to withdraw, fearing Secure Communities might impede policing, the federal government asserted the program was mandatory. State contracts that implied otherwise were rescinded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton last August.


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.


California's 'anti-Arizona' bill clears state Senate

Photo by Chad Miller/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A California measure dubbed by some as the "anti-Arizona" bill cleared the state Senate this afternoon by a vote of 21-13. Better known as TRUST Act, the bill proposes restricting who it is that law enforcement agencies can hold for deportation at the request of immigration officials.

The bill now heads to the Assembly - which passed a previous version last year - for a concurrence vote on its way to the governor's office.

A heavily amended version of the original approved last year, the measure proposes that local and state law enforcement officers in California only be allowed to hold immigrants with violent or otherwise serious criminal convictions for immigration officers.

The TRUST Act has somewhat of a roundabout history. About this time last year, the original bill (the acronym stands for “Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools”) was moving through the statehouse. That version aimed to make optional California counties' and cities’ participation in the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, which allows the fingerprints of people booked by local cops to be shared with immigration officials.