California Senate Passes "Anti-Arizona" TRUST Act, Moves Conversation on Smart Immigration Enforcement Forward

Yesterday afternoon, the California State Senate affirmed their state’s commitment to smart and cost-effective immigration enforcement by passing the TRUST Act (AB 1081) by a 21-13 vote. The bill’s focus on maintaining trust with community members statewide by prioritizing violent and serious criminals instead of casting a wide, expensive, and counter-productive dragnet has spurred many to call it the “anti-Arizona.”    

Introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, a member of PSN’s affiliated State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, the legislation seeks to clarify the relationship between local jurisdictions and the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The crown jewel of the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement policies, Secure Communities requires local jurisdictions to determine the immigration status of arrestees before they are convicted of a crime and share the information with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. These officials can then place a detainer (basically an immigration hold) on undocumented immigrations, requiring local jails to hold the individual until ICE determines whether or not to begin deportation proceedings.

Despite the program’s stated goals of focusing on serious and violent offenders who are undocumented, in practice Secure Communities has amounted to a broad dragnet that has swept nearly one million people (many of them not convicted of any crime) in deportation proceedings.  The TRUST Act would  focus law-enforcement energy and dollars on violent and serious crime by outlining which immigration detainers must be honored by state law enforcement. It also requires that localities develop specific plans to mitigate the impact of detainer policies on US citizens and legal permanent residents. 

Originally conceived as a way to target immigration enforcement on serious cases, S-Comm has been an unmitigated disaster.  As of March 31st 2012, a staggering 70% of the more than 70,000 deported under S-Comm in California either had no criminal convictions or were picked up for minor offenses. The flawed program also exposes U.S. citizens to extended detentions and, according to a series of newly released emails between California and federal officials, has been difficult to modify to protect non-criminals.

The TRUST Act comes on the heels of longstanding state-based resistance to Secure Communities and the recent Supreme Court ruling gutting Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. Governors in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have challenged their state’s involvement in the program, highlighting the gap between the S-Comm’s stated goals and the actual devastation the program has wrought on immigrant communities nationwide through widespread deportations.  Several localities including Washington D.C., Cook County, and Santa Clara County have also weighed in against S-Comm by passing local detainer ordinances meant to refocus the program on its actual objective of keeping communities safe.

The TRUST Act now goes to the full California Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. If the Governor values his state’s dynamic immigrant population and economic bottom line, he won’t hesitate before signing. In the meantime, it’s clear that the movement for smart immigration enforcement and common-sense state level immigration policy continues to gain momentum.