By Matt O’Brien, Contra Costa Times -
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California’s Legislature is poised to become the first in the nation to pass an “anti-Arizona” law instructing police to release illegal immigrants instead of handing them over to the federal government if they haven’t committed serious crimes.
If passed, the law would put a Democratic state at odds with a Democratic president whose administration has counted on local-federal police partnerships to find and deport illegal immigrants with criminal records.
“We aren’t usurping anything. It’s a states’ rights issue,” said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, sponsor of the bill that passed the Senate in a 21-13 vote Thursday.
The Assembly approved the bill in May and must vote on it again after the summer recess, but the big question is if the bill, AB 1081, will win the support of California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has power to veto it.
Brown, as attorney general, signed the agreement with the Obama administration allowing federal immigration agents to track down and pick up every deportable immigrant arrested by local police in the state through a fingerprints-sharing program, Secure Communities, that has deported more than 7,500 people from the Bay Area since 2010.
Ammiano’s new law tries to extricate California from that program and is rooted in Bay Area opposition to joining the local-federal partnership, one that immigrant advocates say is netting far more non-criminals than it should.
The law that Ammiano calls the Trust Act would prohibit police and sheriff’s departments from holding immigrants after they are eligible for release from criminal custody unless they have been convicted of a serious or violent felony.
Some police chiefs have supported the bill, but sheriffs, who are responsible for county jails, have been less supportive. The Assembly website lists dozens of supporters, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and numerous immigrant rights’ groups, and just one opponent: the California State Sheriff’s Association.
The Senate vote this week fell along partisan lines, but one Democratic senator voted against the bill after speaking with sheriffs in his Central Valley district who said it would burden them and pit law enforcement against undocumented residents.
“Why would we ask a sheriff’s deputy in any of the 58 counties to make a determination of what is a serious crime and what is not?” asked state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter. “Sheriffs would be put in a difficult position.”