US immigration

California becomes ‘sanctuary state’ in defying Trump’s immigration crackdown

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 4:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 January, 2018, 5:39am

California Governor Jerry Brown signed “sanctuary state” legislation on Thursday that extends protections for immigrants living in the United States illegally, a move that gives the nation’s most populous state another tool to fight President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

Brown’s signature means that California police will be barred from asking people about their immigration status or taking part in federal immigration enforcement activities starting on January 1. Jail officials only will be allowed to transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of certain crimes.

California is home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrations without legal authorisation.

“These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day,” Brown said in statement.

The Trump administration said the bill will make California more dangerous.

The state “has now codified a commitment to returning criminal aliens back onto our streets, which undermines public safety, national security, and law enforcement,” Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice, said in a statement.

The measure came in response to widespread fear in immigrant communities following Trump’s election. He railed against immigrants in his campaign and promised to sharply ramp up the deportation of people living in the US illegally.

Democrats hope blocking police from cooperating will limit the reach of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.

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The bill “will put a large kink in Trump’s perverse and inhumane deportation machine,” Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said at a press conference in Los Angeles celebrating the signing.

De Leon’s bill cleared the Legislature with support only from Democrats. Republicans said it will protect criminals and make it harder for law enforcement to keep people safe.

The bill, SB54, originally would have severely restricted the authority of police officers to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. At Brown’s insistence, it was scaled back to allow cooperation in jails.

Police and sheriff’s officials, including jail officers, will still be able to work with federal immigration authorities if a person has been convicted of one of about 800 crimes, mostly felonies and misdemeanours that can be charged as felonies. But they will be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offences.

The changes convinced the California police chiefs association to drop its opposition, while sheriffs – elected officials who run jails – remained opposed.

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ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has condemned the measure, saying California is prioritising politics over public safety.

California’s Democratic political leaders have enthusiastically battled Trump and his administration with lawsuits, legislation and fiery public rhetoric, particularly about immigration and the environment.

Some law enforcement officials said the impact of the sanctuary measure likely will be minimal because it bans immigration enforcement activities that few agencies participate in.

Immigrant rights advocates said it is important to codify restrictions with the force of law while adding new ones. For them, it’s a rare victory during Trump’s presidency.

The measure was dubbed a “sanctuary state” bill because it sought to expand so-called sanctuary city policies that have long been in place in some of California’s biggest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Brown and de Leon have said the bill does not give safe harbour to immigrants, particularly after the concessions Brown demanded.