California moves to become ‘sanctuary state,’ and others look to follow

NEW YORK — With the federal government vastly expanding who is considered a priority for deportation, the California state Senate approved a bill last week that increased protections for immigrants.

The measure prohibits local law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, detain, report, or arrest people for immigration violations.


Supporters say the law — essentially making California the country’s first “sanctuary state” — would prevent immigrants who face no criminal charges from being turned over for deportation.

The law goes next to the Assembly, where it is expected to pass. But Governor Jerry Brown has not indicated whether he supports it.

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If approved, the law could directly contradict federal directives, putting local law enforcement agencies in the difficult position of deciding whether to obey Sacramento or Washington. Legal battles are considered likely.

Bills that restrict cooperation with immigration officials have been introduced in several legislatures in the country, including in Illinois, Maryland, Nevada, and New York.

In Vermont last month, Governor Phil Scott, a Republican, signed a measure that bars state and local police officers from enforcing immigration laws without his approval and prohibits the collection of personal information, including immigration status and religion, for any kind of registry that could be used by federal officials.


If enacted, the California law could have a significant effect on federal immigration enforcement — at least half of immigrants living in the United States who are deported come from local jails and prisons, experts say.

Under a state law in place since 2013, local jails in California have not complied with “detainers,” or requests from ICE to hold immigrants who could be deported.

Still, nearly every county jail allows ICE officers inside, so they can easily keep track of who is brought in and scheduled for release, comparing names and fingerprints with federal immigration databases. The new law would end that policy and would also prohibit police from notifying ICE about anyone they pull over.

The law is intended to prevent immigrants from being deported for minor crimes, said Kevin de León, president pro tem of the California Senate and author of the legislation. “It’s the absolute height of ridiculousness that ICE would come in and just deport somebody as opposed to that person having their day in immigration court,” he said.

Opponents of the policy argue that the state will effectively force immigration authorities to make more arrests in public, where other immigrants who have not been convicted of any crime could also be swept up.

It is still unclear how Attorney General Jeff Sessions will follow through on the administration’s threat to withhold grants from so-called sanctuary cities, let alone states.

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