California Becomes 'Sanctuary State' As Governor Signs Bill
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed sanctuary state legislation Thursday that extends protections for immigrants living in the United States illegally — a move that gives the nation's most populous state another tool to fight President Donald Trump.
Brown's signature means that police will be barred from asking people about their immigration status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities starting Jan. 1. Jail officials only will be allowed to transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of certain crimes.
"These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day," Brown said in statement.
It was one of several immigration-focused bills that Brown signed Thursday, which was also the final day for young immigrants to renew their permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects them from deportation. Trump intends to end the program if Congress doesn't act on it.
California is home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization.
The Trump administration said the sanctuary state bill will make California more dangerous.
The state "has now codified a commitment to returning criminal aliens back onto our streets, which undermines public safety, national security, and law enforcement," Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said in a statement.
The measure came in response to widespread fear in immigrant communities following Trump's election. He railed against immigrants in his campaign and promised to sharply ramp up the deportation of people living in the U.S. illegally.
Democrats hope blocking police from cooperating will limit the reach of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers.
The bill "will put a large kink in Trump's perverse and inhumane deportation machine," Democratic Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said at a press conference in Los Angeles celebrating the signing.
De Leon's bill cleared the Legislature with support only from Democrats. Republicans said it will protect criminals and make it harder for law enforcement to keep people safe.
The bill, SB54, originally would have severely restricted the authority of police officers to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. At Brown's insistence, it was scaled back to allow cooperation in jails.
Police and sheriff's officials, including jail officers, will still be able to work with federal immigration authorities if a person has been convicted of one of about 800 crimes, mostly felonies and misdemeanors that can be charged as felonies. But they will be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offenses.
The changes convinced the California police chiefs association to drop its opposition, while sheriffs — elected officials who run jails — remained opposed. ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan has condemned the measure, saying California is prioritizing politics over public safety.
California's Democratic political leaders have enthusiastically battled Trump and his administration with lawsuits, legislation and fiery public rhetoric, particularly about immigration and the environment.
Among other things, the other bills signed Thursday by Brown will limit federal immigration authorities from entering schools and workplaces without warrants; prohibit landlords from reporting tenants to ICE; and stop local governments from contracting with for-profit companies and ICE to hold immigrants.
Some law enforcement officials say the impact of the sanctuary measure likely will be minimal because it bans immigration enforcement activities that few agencies participate in.
Immigrant rights advocates say it's important to codify restrictions with the force of law while adding new ones. For them, it's a rare victory during Trump's presidency.
The measure was dubbed a sanctuary state bill because it sought to expand so-called sanctuary city policies that have long been in place in some of California's biggest cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Brown, though, has resisted the label. In his signing statement, he noted the bill does not prohibit ICE from operating in California.
"They are free to use their own considerable resources to enforce federal immigration law in California," Brown wrote.
De Leon put it somewhat differently.
"It won't stop ICE from trolling our streets," he said.