County Sheriffs Caught in the Middle as Immigration Advocates Criticize Guv’s Veto of Trust Act
Now that the governor has finished signing (and vetoing) bills that arrived on his desk, immigration advocates believe the result has been a mixed bag for their cause. A bill that advocates say could have made a real impact is the Trust Act, Assembly Bill 1081, which the governor vetoed. The bill would have affected counties because local law enforcement authorities would be prohibited from detaining people for possible deportation, thereby limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The Trust Act is an attempt to limit local government involvement with the Secure Communities program, which requires officers to check fingerprints with a federal immigration database so that people can be turned over for deportation, even if they were arrested on a minor charge. Advocates have argued all along that such a process should only apply to undocumented immigrants charged with, or convicted of, “a serious or violent felony.” A few local governments have adhered to this method, such as Santa Clara County. Fear of being detained by ICE has prevented immigrant victims and witnesses from coming forward, according to Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith, who strongly supported the bill.
In his veto message, the governor wrote: “Federal agents shouldn’t try to coerce local enforcement officers into detaining people who’ve been picked up for minor offenses and pose no reasonable threat to their community. But I am unable to sign this bill as written. … Unfortunately, the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes.”
Many counties and sheriffs were opposed to the bill due to the same concerns the governor mentioned in his veto message, namely that public safety would be affected if some cases were allowed to fall through the cracks. The omissions the governor is worried about include “child abuse, drug trafficking, and weapons violations. The AP reports that “Brown promised to work with lawmakers to fix the bill's wording.”
While the governor indicated the decision should be up to local control, it is a bit murky whether or not local sheriffs have that option. The Contra Costa Times notes that Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal acknowledged Brown's position that local sheriffs do have discretion to comply with ICE holds, he believes the question isn't so clear cut. ‘We've had advice both ways,’ he said.”
The state has turned over about 80,000 illegal immigrants for deportation since 2009 and notably fewer than half had committed a serious or violent felony. See more here.