SACRAMENTO (CBSLA.com/AP) — California Democrats approved a “sanctuary state” bill early Saturday morning that will limit how local and state police can interact with federal immigration agents.
The bill is intended to bolster immigrant protections in the state that are already among the toughest in the nation.
It will now be considered by Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support after the top state Senate leader agreed to water down the bill and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to cooperate with immigration officers in many cases.
Following sharp dissent from law enforcement officials — including Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell — coupled with Brown’s intervention, it was scaled back significantly. McDonnell released a statement Saturday praising the revised bill as “very different.” Back in March, McDonnell had said he feared SB5 54 would force Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents into the communities.
“The potential is, the likelihood is, they’re going to go into the communities looking for the individual, and my assessment would be they’re not going to limit themselves to that individual,” McDonnell said at the time.
However, his statement Saturday, McDonnell said “we can move beyond the bill’s early false premise that local law enforcement was going to act as immigration agents.”
His statement read, in part:
“I strongly opposed SB 54 as initially introduced, because I viewed it as a threat to public safety. I believe that the protections put in place by both the Trust Act and the Truth Act provided safeguards to our communities and focused federal immigration authorities on criminals who prey on our communities.
“SB 54, as passed by the legislature, is a very different bill today. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Brown and his staff and members of the State Senate and Assembly, we can move beyond the bill’s early false premise that local law enforcement was going to act as immigration agents. This is fundamentally not true and I, and other law enforcement leaders in California, had the opportunity to make that point.
“Introduced legislation is often amended and numerous compromises are made before a bill goes to the Governor and becomes law. That is exactly what happened with SB 54. Governor Brown, as well as key members of the State Senate and Assembly, also engaged the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in a series of conference calls and briefings. A compromise was struck with SB 54’s authors. SB 54 now largely reflects much of what the LASD implemented years ago and the work is well underway.
“While not perfect, SB 54 kept intact our ability to maintain partnerships with federal law enforcement officials who help us in the fight against gangs, drugs and human trafficking. It also retains the controlled access that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to our jails. This access will continue to be guided by the strict standards of the existing state laws, the Trust Act of 2014 and the Truth Act of 2016 that pre-date SB 54.”
Latest Coverage: The Sanctuary Debate
In its own statement, ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan offered a scathing criticism of the passage, claiming that “California politicians have chosen to prioritize politics over public safety.”
“Disturbingly, the legislation serves to codify a dangerous policy that deliberately obstructs our country’s immigration laws and shelters serious criminal alien offenders,” Homan wrote.
The final version prohibits law enforcement officials from asking about a person’s immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement efforts. It also prohibits law enforcement officials from being deputized as immigration agents or arresting people on civil immigration warrants.
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 some 800 crimes, mostly felonies and misdemeanors that can be charged as felonies. But they’ll be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offenses.
Los Angeles police also released a statement in favor of the bill, welcoming “the passage of the California Values Act, which adopts many of the policies the Department has used over the past forty years to build community trust and reduce violent crime to historic lows.”
This comes after a federal judge in Chicago ruled Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions cannot follow through with his threat to withhold public safety grant money to so-called sanctuary cities for refusing his order to impose tough immigration policies.
Sanctuary cities in the Southland include San Bernardino, Santa Ana and Malibu. In early August, Sessions moved to punish San Bernardino and three other so-called sanctuary cities, threatening to deny them federal crime-fighting resources if they don’t step up efforts to help detain and deport people living in the country illegally.
Oregon is the only state that has declared itself a sanctuary, doing so in 1987.
The legislation is the latest effort by Democratic lawmakers in California, home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization, to create barriers to President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to step up deportation efforts. They’ve also approved money for legal assistance and college scholarships for people living illegally in the U.S., and made it harder for businesses and government agencies to disclose people’s immigration status.
California lawmakers are debating the measure as the U.S. Congress considers offering legal status to young immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally or overstayed their visas.
“This comes as a relief that there are some legislators that are really listening,” said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
The measure cleared the Legislature with support only from Democrats over the objection of Republicans who it will protect criminals and make it harder for law-enforcement to keep people safe.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, introduced SB54 shortly after Trump’s election to cut off most interactions between federal immigration agents and local police and sheriff’s officers.
Immigration advocates generally applauded the latest version, even with de Leon’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.
The bill will prevent local police from becoming “cogs in the Trump deportation machine,” de Leon said.
California police chiefs dropped their opposition but sheriffs, who run jails where the biggest impacts will be felt, remain opposed.
“In my view this bill’s going to make us less safe,” said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton. “It’s going to protect the criminal at the expense of the law abiding citizen.”
The changes did not mollify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan, who said the bill will deliberately destruct immigration laws and shelter criminals.
“If California politicians pass this bill, they will be prioritizing politics over the safety and security of their constituents,” Homan said in a statement this week.
As lawmakers considered the bill Friday another high-profile killing in San Francisco spotlighted the sanctuary issue. Immigration and Customs Enforcement disclosed that two weeks ago, before 18-year-old Erick Garcia-Pineda was a murder suspect, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department denied a request to hold him until federal authorities could take him into custody for deportation proceedings.
California’s Democratic political leaders have positioned the nation’s largest state as a foil to Trump and his administration. They’ve passed legislation and filed lawsuits aimed at protecting immigrants, combating climate change and blocking any future attempt to build a registry of Muslims.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)