A bill making its way through the California state legislature would restrict how local law enforcement agencies cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
If the Trust Act is passed, California will be the first state in the country to challenge the federal Secure Communities program by directing local police departments to stop detaining undocumented immigrants after they're eligible for release.
Border reporter Amy Isackson reports about 198,000 people nationwide have been deported under Secure Communities in the last three years. California leads all states with 75,000 deportations. Seventy percent of those deported did not commit a crime or were guilty of a low-level offense.
The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said on KQED Forum last Friday that the Trust Act will help free up resources in the criminal justice system as many less-violent prisoners that would have formerly been sent to state prison are now directed to county jails under realignment:
"There's a lot of pressure on local jail space--that's what realignment is doing," Ammiano told host Joshua Johnson. "And we shouldn't use these resources to unfairly trap parents, students, and you know, even citizens... There is a lot of racial profiling going on around this. What we're asking is that there be standards and protocols so that innocent people are not swept up. You can't criminalize someone for being undocumented, but of course, if they're [violent criminals] they should be deported."
Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said undocumented victims and witnesses of crimes are already protected under ICE's existing priorities.
"There's not a single victim or witness to a crime who's been deported as a result of Secure Communities who was not...already involved in some kind of criminal offense," she said on Friday's Forum show.
The problem with the Trust Act, according to Vaughn, is that it removes discretion from local law enforcement agencies, preventing them from turning over undocumented people unless they're felons convicted of certain violent crimes.
"And that means people like drunk drivers, gang members, people who are committing these acts of domestic violence are gonna be allowed to stay here... And after all, everyone here illegally is potentially subject to some kind of immigration law enforcement. And that's what the public wants to see happen."
But as the Contra Costa Times reports, underage undocumented immigrants in San Mateo County have been mistakenly reported to federal immigration authorities.
After being notified of its error in November, the county implemented a new policy in March, said Stuart Forrest, chief of the county's probation department, which oversees juvenile justice matters. The new policy still gives juvenile probation officials broad discretion to report youths, "guided by what best protects public safety and the best interests of children." And that galls immigrant advocates, who say the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shouldn't be contacted at all when it comes to kids.
The bill is expected to land on Governor Jerry Brown's desk in early August.