California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law protections for some 2.3 million immigrants living in the US illegally. The Trump administration warned against the first-of-its-kind law, but the trendsetting state may have a national impact.
Beginning in January, Senate Bill 54, dubbed the California Values Act, will prohibit local law enforcement from asking about immigration status “during routine interactions” or complying with “unconstitutional” detainer requests from federal immigration officers.
In a signing statement accompanying the bill, Brown explained that the bill also prohibits the federal government from using local authorities “to do the work of immigration agents.”
Law enforcement officers will also be prohibited from detaining an individual on a hold request from the federal government unless there is a felony or warrant, or they have been convicted of one of 800 crimes listed in the state’s TRUST Act.
Additionally, officers will be prohibited from arresting an individual solely based on a civil immigration warrant, becoming deputized as immigration agents, or participating in joint task forces with the federal government if the primary purpose is immigration enforcement.
Last month, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly urged Brown to veto the bill, calling it “unconscionable.” Sessions and other officials with the Trump administration have come out against “sanctuary jurisdictions,” citing a connection between illegal immigrants and increases in violent crime.
This is not the first time the nation’s most populous state has defied the federal government. In 1996, California became the first US state to legalize medical marijuana. Since then, 29 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form.
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Legislators in 15 states and the District of Columbia have introduced similar immigration “sanctuary” bills in 2017, while another 33 states are considering legislation to prohibit them, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
“Sanctuary policies endanger us all, and especially the federal immigration officers who are forced to pursue criminal aliens outside of jails and prisons,” Sessions said in a speech to federal law enforcement officials in September.
Sessions has threatened to withhold federal grants to “sanctuary jurisdictions” that do not allow federal immigration authorities access to local jails and give the Department 48 hours notice before releasing anyone wanted for immigration violations. That policy was temporarily blocked by a federal judge after being challenged by the city of Chicago, Illinois.
However, Brown said that the bill does not “prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way.”
Federal immigration officers are “free to use their own considerable resources” when enforcing federal law in the state. Brown also said that the bill does not prohibit local sheriffs from cooperating with deportation proceedings from federal immigration officers or letting them into their jails to conduct interviews.
“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 wrote in his signing message.
In the weeks after the November 2016 presidential election, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon introduced Senate Bill 54 as a direct response to President Donald Trump’s campaign policies on immigration.
“We will not stand idly by as President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seek to divide this nation by scapegoating honest, hardworking families and casting immigrants as threats to be neutralized,” de Leon said in a statement following Brown’s signing.
Asked for a comment about the bill, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration is “spending every day we can trying to find the best way forward.”
“The President will be laying out his responsible immigration plan over the next week,” Huckabee Sanders said at Thursday’s press briefing. “And I hope that California will push back on their governor’s, I think, irresponsible decision moving forward.”
More than 10 million immigrants live in California, more than any other state in the US, according to the American Immigration Council.
There are an estimated 2.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the state, according to the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
Brown also signed 10 other immigration bills on Thursday, meant to “enhance housing, school, workplace and civil protections for California’s immigrants.”
The other bills prohibit landlords from reporting their undocumented tenants, ban employers from authorizing federal immigration raids at the workplace, and allow students whose parents were deported to continue attending California schools.
“This action protects public safety and ensures hard-working people who contribute to our state are respected,” Brown said in a statement.
Since Trump was elected US president, there have been three different ballot initiatives that would require the state Legislature to ask Congress for a federal constitutional convention in order to make California an independent state. The measure, known as “Calexit,” gained support from one-third of residents in the Golden State, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll in January.