Today the California legislature signed a bill which would give it “sanctuary state” status, lending more clarity to the term which has been left (sometimes intentionally) fuzzy.
The California Values Act would forbid state and local law enforcement from providing information to federal immigration agencies for individuals, unless those individuals have been convicted of a felony or certain serious crimes within the last 15 years. In that case, law enforcement officials will “have discretion to cooperate” with federal immigration officials.
California wouldn’t be the first to pass such a law. Oregon enacted a similar bill in 1987 which blocked the state’s police from using resources to detain people wanted for immigration violations.
But til now, the “sanctuary” definition has remained open and sometimes meaninglessly contradictory. For example, Vermont has enacted a similar bill with conflicting orders. In the state’s guide to municipalities, it says that local law enforcement “shall not dedicate time or resources to the enforcement of federal immigration law,” but with the add-on that that mandate is overridden by federal law which states:
Notwithstanding any other provision of Federal, State, or local law, a Federal, State, or local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.
So it’s a nice thing to say and effectively useless.
California, on the other hand, has been making more headway. It became the first state to sue the Trump Administration over its proposal to cut law enforcement funding to sanctuary cities, which the federal government defines as jurisdictions which may refuse to give federal officials access to local jails or give 48 hours’ notice of release of prisoners with immigration charges.
The California Sheriff’s Association argues that the new restrictions in the Values Act would make states less safe. “Our overarching concern remains that limiting local law enforcement’s ability to communicate and cooperate with federal law enforcement officers endangers public safety,” they wrote in a statement posted on Twitter. The bill “goes too far in cutting off communications,” they write, including barring them from informing federal immigration officials about people like those who assault police officers, animal abusers, drug addicts, gang members, and drunk drivers and committers of hit-and-runs.
NPR notes that California is home to an estimated 2.3 million undocumented immigrants. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to sign the California Values Act into law soon.