California lawmakers approved a "sanctuary state" bill on Saturday that would put new restrictions on interactions between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities, drawing the ire of federal officials who argued the legislation prioritizes politics over public safety.
Rob Bonta co-sponsored the bill. He says he understands the governor wanting to make amendments and appease law enforcement by softening the bill, but says he still preferred the bill in its original form.
“We still have a bill that’s very strong for immigrants, keeps families together making sure they’re not torn apart, and in the process making sure that public safety is a top priority," said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Calif.
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 say 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. Following sharp dissent from law enforcement officials and Brown's intervention, it was scaled back significantly.
“This sends a very clear message to the Trump administration that in California, we value inclusivity and we value diversity,” de Leon said.
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.
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.
“Work hard, you pay your taxes, you pledge your allegiance to the red white and blue, you should be protected, not detained or deported under a Trump administration that's looking to deport mothers and fathers, as well as DACA young students," de Leon said. "That’s not who we are in a great state like California.”
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.
“What SB 54 does is completely counter-intuitive to what was done in the 90s to stop [Immigration Customs Enforcement] raids, the same raids that the people running this legislation say will happen," said Devon Mathis, R-Visalia. "If these people want to see more of that, pass SB 54. If you want to see U.S. Marshals open up depots, if you want to see vans pulling up at soccer games rounding our friends and neighbors up, then vote on SB 54.”
“I think that’s the problem, is that this bill is about making a political statement," said James Gallagher, R-Yuba City. "You’re going to have to go back to your community and explain to them why you made their community less safe. Why you put the handcuffs on local law enforcement who protects all the community, who protects the immigrant community?”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who opposed initial versions of the bill, drawing protests outside his office, said he was pleased the approved legislation would still allow federal immigration agents to have access to the nation's largest jail system.
"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," McDonnell said.
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 will "make California communities less safe."
"By passing this bill, California politicians have chosen to prioritize politics over public safety," Homan said in a statement. "Disturbingly, the legislation serves to codify a dangerous policy that deliberately obstructs our country's immigration laws and shelters serious criminal alien offenders."
At one point during floor debate, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales Fletcher, D-San Diego, became noticeably emotional. FOX40 asked her what was going through her mind at that point. This was her response:
“I think sometimes it’s hard to hear people talk about immigrants in a way that’s blatantly false, or categorize them in a way that suggests they’re criminals. And it's tough. It’s tough for those of us who come from immigrant families, who have a variety of people in our family with different documentation status, who understand why people come to this country for a better life.”
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.