California becomes “sanctuary state”

Immigration, Politics

California’s new “sanctuary state” law, designed to protect immigrants who do not have legal U.S. residency, went into effect January 1, 2018.  The law prohibits “state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using money or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”

Legislating sanctuary states

The new law, which codifies policies in place in so-called sanctuary cities throughout the nation, puts up barriers between California law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency the enforces immigration laws. It limits information sharing and co-operation between state agencies and ICE — a separation that has already become standard procedure for many California law enforcement departments. The statute offers exceptions in cases involving people who have been convicted of serious crimes.

Specifically, the new statute bars local and state agencies from asking about a person’s immigration status, taking part in immigration warrant arrests, detaining someone based on an ICE request, placing officers under the supervision of federal immigration officials, using ICE agents as interpreters, taking part in border control activities, or contracting with the federal government to house federal detainees, unless specified in current law.

California agencies are also prohibited from providing information about an inmate’s release from county jail or transferring someone to ICE without a warrant or a finding of probable cause from a judge. In both cases, these actions are allowed if the person involved has been convicted of one of the 800 crimes listed in the California Trust Act. Those include all serious and violent felonies, along with some nonviolent offenses and some that can be prosecuted as either misdemeanors or felonies.

The new law also requires California law-enforcement agencies to create annual reports for the attorney general’s office on the number of people transferred to immigration authorities and their offenses. And it gives the attorney general until October 1, 2018 to come up with policies to limit immigration enforcement at institutions such as schools, public libraries, and health facilities.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is exempt from the new law, but it is required to come up with new standards for people held on immigration charges and to offer inmates consent forms before interviews with immigration agents.

Federal response from ICE

Shortly after the law went into effect, Thomas Homan, acting director of the ICE, promised that more ICE agents would be sent to California in reaction. Homan advocated a crackdown on sanctuary cities as well.

“We gotta take [sanctuary cities] to court, and we gotta start charging some of these politicians with crimes,” Homan said on Fox News.

Sanctuary cities have been targeted by President Donald Trump, who signed an executive order in January 2017 denying federal funds to cities that don’t co-operate with federal immigration officials. A federal judge blocked the order in November. More recently, 11 states have joined a lawsuit pushing for reinstatement of the order.

Should it survive court challenges, it is an open question whether the president’s order could be applied to the entire state of California, and even if it could, which federal funds would be subject to the order. Like so many aspects of the national debate over immigration, the impact of California’s declaration of statewide sanctuary remains murky.