Landmark law expected to lower deportations, raise confidence in law enforcement

2013.12.30 – California’s TRUST Act is poised to have a dramatic impact on the immigration debate when it goes into effect this Wednesday, January 1, along with a host of other pro-immigrant measures. As anticipation mounts in immigrant communities across the state, representatives of several organizations which sponsored the bill are available this week for phone interviews as well as in-person interviews in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

The TRUST Act (AB 4 by Assemblymember Ammiano) sets a minimum standard throughout California to limit cruel and costly immigration “hold” requests in local jails. These optional requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) trap undocumented community members– and even citizens – in local jails for extra time at local expense. 

Often triggered by the deeply controversial “Se Communities” or S-Comm program, the holds have caused over 100,000 deportations in California since 2009 and have come under severe fire for undermining community confidence in law enforcement, separating families, and wasting local resources. A significant majority of the Californians deported either had minor convictions or none at all.

When Governor Brown signed the bill on Oct. 5, he declared: “We’re not using our jails as a holding vat for the immigration service” and highlighted California’s move toward inclusive immigration policies as a national model:  “Just as California’s changed, Arizona’s going to change … we’re part of a grand and great transition.”

The bill goes into affect amid growing calls for President Obama to follow California’s example and use his considerable executive authority to halt deportations.

Meanwhile, other TRUST Acts are pending in Massachusetts and Maryland.

TRUST Act – key developments since signature and resources

Sea change among California Sheriffs: With support already strong among police chiefs, Congressmembers, and religious leaders, recent months have also seen key Sheriffs who once opposed TRUST shift their stances dramatically.

In September, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca signaled his support, and Sonoma Sheriff Steve Freitas announced he would follow TRUST. (The pair had previously threatened to defy the bill.) Since signature, several Sheriffs, including the Sheriff of Contra Costa County – which has seen the most deportations in the Bay Area – have embraced the bill.

Additionally, San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon not only shifted his stance this month, but also added TRUST Act protections into a rare, controversial agreement with ICE that advocates have long protested. And following a civil disobedience demonstration by local immigrant youth – including a young man whose brother was deported in 2011 for driving without a license – Fresno Sheriff Margaret Mims confirmed she will also adhere to TRUST.

Who will TRUST help? During the three-year fight to pass the TRUST Act, many courageous undocumented Californians facing deportation spoke out, including María Sánchez of Torrance, currently facing deportation after she was the victim of a fender-bender; domestic violence survivors wrongfully arrested after calling for help like Norma and Isaura; Day Laborers like Jose Ucelo, arrested on false charges from employers unwilling to pay wages owed;  Sacramento tamale vendor Juana Reyes and other food vendors; and Ruth Montano, a Bakersfield mother nearly deported due to a trivial complaint over her small dogs’ barking. Had TRUST been in effect, none would have been held for deportation.

What the bill does: TRUST ensures that people with most low-level, non-violent offenses are not wastefully held for deportation purposes.  At the same time, its compromise, minimum standard allows holds for both felony convictions and for those accused of felonies under certain circumstances. It also allows holds for people with a number of higher level misdemeanor convictions within 5 years and for certain convictions in federal court. (Full text here.)

Local policies: Since each immigration hold raises serious due process and civil rights issues, local governments can enact protections beyond the TRUST Act. This year, San Francisco stopped virtually all immigration holds, and Santa Clara County upheld the state’s strongest anti-deportation policy.


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