SACRAMENTO – California police chiefs have dropped their opposition to a weakened “sanctuary state” measure that would restrict their interactions with immigration authorities, but sheriffs remained opposed Tuesday, saying the measure would still limit their authority to work with federal officers in jails.
The bill was introduced in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s election as California Democrats looked to protect immigrants fearing the new Republican president would ramp up deportation. It was watered down on Monday to win support from Gov. Jerry Brown and is expected to be considered in the Legislature on Friday.
The legislative push comes as lawmakers and Brown look to spend $30 million on scholarships and legal assistance for young immigrants living illegally in the U.S. The state is also pursues two lawsuits against Trump over his decision to end a program that protects some young immigrants from deportation.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon’s SB54 originally would have strictly limited the authority for state and local law enforcement officers to cooperate and share information with immigration agents, stepping up statewide sanctuary for people living in the country illegally. It drew sharp condemnation from law-enforcement officials who warned that they’d be unable to work with federal authorities on task forces or ensure dangerous criminals were deported upon release from jail.
With changes announced Monday, it will now allow local officers to transfer immigrants to federal authorities if they’ve been convicted of one of some 800 crimes.
It’s better, the sheriffs said, but still problematic.
“We’re passing laws to not communicate with other governmental agencies and I just struggle with that,” Kings County Sheriff David Robinson, a vocal critic of the bill, told The Associated Press. “I’m still adamantly opposed to the bill. It does nothing to protect immigrants, whether legal or illegal. It only protects criminals.”
Immigration advocates generally applauded the latest version, even with DeLeon’s concessions. For them, the bill delivers a rare victory during Trump’s presidency, preserving some protections for people in the country illegally and adding others.
Police chiefs dropped their opposition because the final version will allow officers to collaborate with federal investigations while reaffirming that they “should not be used to assist in mass deportations,” Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said in a statement.
Sheriffs, however, held firm against the bill. Much of the bill’s impact will now fall on jails, which are run by elected sheriffs who say they’ll take the blame if they release someone who ends up committing another crime.
The final version prohibits law enforcement officials from asking about a person’s immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement efforts. The bill prohibits law enforcement officials from being deputized as immigration agents or arresting people on civil immigration warrants.
“There’s so much in this bill that prohibits us from doing stuff we already don’t do,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, another outspoken critic, said in a phone interview. “It’s a horrible bill that is now made where it has a minimal impact on my county.”
Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, acknowledged local law enforcement may already be following some of the bill’s provisions but that it was significant to enshrine them in law.
“It’s not perfect but there are some reassuring things,” she said Tuesday. “This is a step in the right direction.”
The new legislation will allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access state law enforcement databases — something de Leon sought to prohibit in his original proposal.
Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said the bill was a “timely and important step” toward divorcing the state from immigration enforcement and “will serve to protect communities throughout California.”
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