California immigration bills addressing Trump policies headed to governor's desk

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Several immigration-related bills are awaiting a signature or a veto by Gov. Jerry Brown, most of which are the result of state lawmakers pushing back against President Trump's stricter enforcement policies. 

Perhaps the most-watched measure is Senate Bill 54, dubbed the “sanctuary state” bill, which was passed and moved on to Brown's desk Friday. The bill limits cooperation between state and local law enforcement and immigration agents, prohibiting state and local police from asking people they stop about their immigration status or taking part in immigration enforcement activities.  

Other bills are more subtle, part of a general effort that observers say aims to use state laws to challenge federal immigration policies where possible.

One measure, S.B. 29, would bar cities and counties from starting new immigrant detention contracts with private prisons. Another, A.B. 291, would prohibit landlords from threatening or reporting tenants to immigration; A.B. 450 would let employers demand a judicial warrant if immigration authorities stage a workplace raid; and S.B. 613 would rewrite state law so that state juvenile authorities and state hospitals don’t need to cooperate with immigration officials in deporting individuals in their care.

The last measure follows efforts by immigration agents to forge information-sharing partnerships with local hospitals and medical clinics, some of which have raised alarms about the campaign.

At least eight bills cleared the Legislature and have made it to Brown's desk, according to the California Immigrant Policy Center, a legislative advocacy group that tracks state bills related to immigration. Other notable bills among these include S.B. 31, which prohibits state agencies and employees from collecting data about individuals' religious affiliation to create a registry or database; A.B. 343, which exempts refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders from paying costlier non-resident tuition at state community colleges; and A.B. 208, which would ease conditions requiring guilty pleas for minor drug offenders seeking a deferred entry of judgment. 

A.B. 493, which aims to protect immigrants who are crime victims or witnesses, has already been signed by the governor. There are other immigration-related bills awaiting a vote next near.  

Louis DeSipio, a political scientists ad University of California, Irvine, said it has been years since so many immigration-related bills have cleared the state Legislature. There were similar flurries in 2006 and in 2013, he said. This time around, most are in response to the Trump administration's promised immigration crackdown. 

"I think what we are seeing in this session, more than in previous sessions, is people including these sorts of protections for immigrants generally — and unauthorized immigrants more specifically — in routine bills," De Sipio said. "I think that legislators are trying to show President Trump that the states have a say in policymaking."

But the California bills are unlike some previous state-initiated immigration laws, like Arizona's S.B. 1070. The 2010 immigration crackdown had key provisions struck down after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that they were in conflict with federal law. The California measures seek to challenge the president's immigration policies within the boundaries of state and federal law.

“What they are focusing on is how the state is going to allocate its police powers, its regulatory authority, and that's in our federalist system traditionally been the responsibility of the states," DeSipio said.

"They are essentially saying to state agencies, and to actors acting at the behest of the state, that they can't discriminate in the delivery of their services based on legal status, unless there is a federal statute that prevents them."

That said, Gov. Brown could still deem some bills an overreach of state authority and veto them, DeSipio said.

Brown made clear that he wanted amendments made to S.B. 54 to allow information-sharing between police and federal agents when it comes to people convicted of certain serious crimes. Those changes were made before the bill was voted on and approved.

That’s not to say there won’t be legal challenges if some of the bills become law, said Steven Camarota, research director with the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C. think tank that advocates for tighter immigration rules.

“We’ll have to see if what the state is doing will ultimately be found to be legal, constitutional, and that is an open question at this point," Camarota said. "Can the state do what it wants to do here?”

Also at issue is whether the federal government will attempt to withhold more federal grant funding from state and local governments that don't comply with federal immigration laws. California has already sued.

"The federal government does seem to have a fair amount of latitude in blocking some types of funding for states that don't comply," Camarota said, "but again, that will end up in court, and the judge will have to have the final say." 

The governor has until Oct. 15 to decide on the bills.

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