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Exploring the Line between Immigration and Law Enforcement

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July 14, 2017

California’s efforts to protect immigrants while balancing legitimate public safety concerns is proving more difficult than many thought.  SB 54, the California Values Act (de Leon, D-Los Angeles), is at an impasse, at least temporarily, as Governor Brown, Senate President pro temp Kevin de Leon, immigration groups and law enforcement interests grapple with the legislation’s complexities.

SB 54 establishes “safe zones” that would that require California schools, hospitals and courtrooms to adopt policies that limit immigration enforcement on their premises.  The principle is to promote public safety and health without becoming involved in the uncertainty and dysfunction of our broken immigration system.

The California Catholic Conference is supporting the bill while working with elected officials and advocacy groups to iron out some of the concerns.

“By our inaction and indifference we have created a quiet human rights tragedy that is playing out in communities all across this great country,” explains Archbishop José Gomez in a recent talk on immigration reform.  “There is now a vast underclass that has grown up at the margins of our society.  And we just seem to accept it as a society.  We have millions of men and women living as perpetual servants — working for low wages in our restaurants and fields; in our factories, gardens, homes and hotels.”

Local law enforcement officers, for instance, place their emphasis on protecting local communities and generally do not have the resources or the desire to enforce Federal immigration laws which are often civil offenses and under the purview of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Many jurisdictions receive funding for police by “renting” jail space to the Federal government to detain potential deportees.   Some also argue that many of the provisions of SB 54 are included already in existing law.

Balancing the need to apprehend violent and serious felons with unnecessary entanglement in immigration matters appear to be the focus of negotiations at this point. 

“Nobody disputes that we should be deporting violent criminals. Nobody,” said Archbishop Gomez.  “People have a right to live in safe neighborhoods. But what is the public policy purpose that is served by taking away some little girl’s dad or some little boy’s mom?”

Los Angeles’ Police Chief Charlie Beck fully endorses SB 54 but other chiefs and associations still have serious questions that need to be addressed.

SB 54 must clear the Assembly Appropriations Committee by September 1, and then clear the Assembly Floor before adjournment by September 15. In the meantime the Legislature takes its summer recess from July 21 to August 21.