On Wednesday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued two guidances clarifying what information local law enforcement agencies’ can and can’t share with federal immigration officials under SB 54,the California Values Act. The AG’s move came two days after Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced that her department had begun publicly posting inmates’ release dates online, a move meant to defy the so-called “sanctuary state” law.
Becerra’s Information Bulletins also followed the OC Board of Supervisors’ Tuesday decision to sign onto U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ federal lawsuit against the state over three of its immigration-related “sanctuary” laws, including SB 54.
The California Values Act aims to prevent the federal government from using state and local public resources–like law enforcement personnel–to help US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents investigate, arrest, or detain immigrants.
The hope, for many local and state officials, is that SB 54 will help undocumented immigrants feel safe reporting crimes and otherwise engaging with law enforcement without the fear of deportation.
“The guidance we’re issuing today simply gives our public safety authorities a clear sense of what the Values Act – which works in concert not conflict with federal law – requires,” Becerra said. “We’re not going to let the Trump Administration coerce us into doing the federal government’s job of enforcing federal immigration law. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”
The California AG’s second, and longest, guidance bulletin explains that SB 54 doesn’t give California law enforcement agencies leeway to ignore federal law regarding cooperating with federal immigration officials.
SB 54 does, however, ban officers from asking about a person’s immigration status. Police cannot make arrests solely for civil immigration violations or engage in joint task forces with federal agencies if the main goal is immigration enforcement either. The first information bulletin details the data reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies that “participate in a joint law enforcement task force” with the feds.
SB 54 also prohibits police agencies from responding to “detainer requests” by keeping an inmate up to 48 hours past their release date (so that ICE has time to pick them up), and prohibits law enforcement from transferring inmates into federal custody unless they’ve been convicted of one of more than 800 crimes listed in the TRUST Act, or if a federal judge has issued a felony warrant.
SB 54 says that local agencies can only provide the feds with jail release dates and respond to ICE notification requests if the information is already available to the public.
The OC Sheriff cited this portion of SB 54 as the reason why her department will now share inmates’ release dates on the OCSD website in order to “enhance communication” between the OCSD and the feds and to “remove dangerous offenders” from Orange County.
“The legislation specifically prohibited local law enforcement’s communication with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on the release of certain undocumented offenders,” the OCSD announcement states. “This provision of the law increases the likelihood of dangerous offenders being released back into the community. The law, however, does not limit information that is available to the public.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department also makes release dates public. A number of law enforcement representatives including Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the California Police Chiefs Association, opposed the bill until considerable changes were made last October before its passage. Governor Brown also expressed concerns about SB 54 before the last minute changes, which included boosting police agencies’ ability to respond to federal immigration hold requests, and increasing access for immigration agents seeking to interview people in local jails. After the changes, OC Sheriff Sandra Hutchens remained opposed to the bill.
Orange County’s supervisors, too, have taken steps to fight the state law, voting 4-0 in a closed-session meeting on Tuesday to join the U.S. Department of Justice in a lawsuit against California.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and immigration officials have loudly decried California’s law and the local law enforcement agencies that decline detainer requests, as well as the portion of California’s recent California Values Act (SB 54) that bans police from responding to ICE’s requests to hold inmates beyond their release dates. The DOJ’s lawsuit against California, however, does not challenge that portion of SB 54, which may show that the DOJ is “conceding on ICE detainers,” according to Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus’s Angela Chan, who helped draft SB 54, reports Reveal News.
The U.S. DOJ (and soon-to-be OC) suit challenges portions of three state laws—SB 54, AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, and AB 103, which gave state officials a system for inspecting immigration facilities within the state.
“This kind of obsessive immigrant bashing is embarrassing to the county and its residents, and seems designed to court the approval of a racist President and his cronies,” Senate President pro Tempore Emeritus Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in response to the OC Supervisors’ vote. “‘Blue’ and ‘progressive’ we may be, but these repeated efforts to portray hardworking immigrants as criminals are a repulsive, black stain on California’s history.”
Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, said that Sessions’s lawsuit against the state’s three laws was filed “under the pretense that these laws interfere with federal immigration authorities and harm public safety. This action reflects a misunderstanding of the U.S. Constitution, our state laws and the American ethos on a fundamental level.”
The state does not “provide “sanctuary” for criminals,” Becerra continued. “We aggressively go after criminals, regardless of their immigration status. And we work regularly in tandem with our federal partners to assist in, for example, combating gangs, human trafficking and the peddling of drugs.”
California police do not, however, act as immigration agents, Becerra added. “We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation.”