California Sheriffs Protest Anti-Secure Communities Bill

By Jon Feere and Jon Feere on August 28, 2012

The California legislature has passed a bill designed to shield illegal aliens from law enforcement and it currently sits on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. The "Trust Act" (AB 1081) would prohibit local law enforcement from complying with federal detention requests except when an illegal alien has been convicted of, or charged with, a "serious" or "violent" felony. The crimes that would be a prerequisite for sending aliens to ICE custody include murder, rape, assault with intent to commit a rape or robbery, kidnapping, carjacking, and a number of other crimes. Many crimes like ID theft or ID fraud get a pass. Consequently, a number of sheriffs are worried that the plan would harm public safety; one sheriff has called on the governor to veto the bill, while another is contemplating defying the act if it becomes law.

Specifically, the Trust Act reads:

(a) A law enforcement official has the discretion to detain an individual on the basis of an immigration hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, if both of the following conditions are satisfied:

(1) The individual has been convicted of a serious or violent felony according to a criminal background check or documentation provided to the law enforcement official by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement or is currently in custody for a charge of a serious or violent felony by a district attorney.

(2) The continued detention of the individual on the basis of the immigration hold would not violate any federal, state, or local law, or any local policy.

(b) If either of the conditions set forth in subdivision (a) is not satisfied, an individual shall not be detained on the basis of an immigration hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from criminal custody.

The apparent goal of the assembly is to limit state-federal cooperation on immigration and marginalize the successful program known as Secure Communities. The program has taken tens of thousands of illegal aliens off the streets. Not surprisingly a new government report finds that when aliens caught under Secure Communities are released back out onto the streets, public safety suffers: Between October 2008 and July 2011 aliens released because of the Obama administration's prioritization scheme went on to commit 58,000 new crimes. California's Trust Act would likely have the same consequences.

Former ICE Official Dan Cadman Discusses
Local Opposition to Secure Communities:

View the Full Interview

In response, Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff wrote the following to Gov. Brown:

In the decade after 9/11, and in response to shortfalls in our national Homeland Security, we have honed close partnerships between federal, state, and local enforcement that this [bill] now directly undermines. In addition, law enforcement agencies have executed legal agreements that are directly impacted by this bill, and we potentially place at risk of cancelation or repayment, millions of dollars in federal grant funds of all types where we certify compliance with federal laws. Or worse, we face years of protracted legal disputes, which will waste scarce county funds that are already very constrained. For these reasons, I oppose Assembly Bill 1081 and respectfully request that you veto this measure.

Meanwhile, the office of Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has promised it will respect detention requests from federal officials regardless of any impositions created by the Trust Act should it become law. According to Baca's spokesman:

Our stance is that federal law trumps state law. If it were to move forward, we'd adhere to federal law, so we'd still honor ICE holds.

Similarly, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas noted:

It would make me break either federal or state law. I would have to pick which one to break.

San Diego County Sheriff William Gore is reportedly ready to join the other sheriffs in ignoring the Trust Act if necessary.

Marin County Sheriff Robert T. Doyle tells the New York Times that his "gut reaction would be to ignore it," adding, "If someone comes to the county jail and he is not here lawfully, I think he should be turned over" to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Times also reports that Nick Warner, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs’ Association, says his organization is "forcefully pushing for a veto," noting that "The sheriffs of this state are actively, unalterably and vehemently opposed."

The bill's lead author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), argues that "California cannot afford to be another Arizona." He claims that the bill "limits unjust and onerous detentions for deportation in local jails of community members who do not pose a threat to public safety." Apparently, the assemblyman believes that millions of instances of ID theft pose no threat to public safety. He also seems to think that the enforcement of immigration laws is only justified in the instance of criminality; he fails to understand that immigration law serves the purpose of protecting national sovereignty and the value of citizenship. A number of other goals — like prevention of illegal hiring practices or reducing strain on social and natural resources — are not on the assemblyman's radar.

This is a great bill for foreigners in the United States illegally who wish to continue engaging in ID theft and a whole host of other crimes. It is a horrible bill for the legal residents of California who want the rule of law to actually mean something. If California's legal residents cannot rely on law enforcement or their state representatives to protect them from lawlessness, does the state's Article 1, Section 1 constitutional declaration of the right of "safety, happiness, and privacy" really exist? And what of the following passage from Article 1, Section 28:

California's victims of crime are largely dependent upon the proper functioning of government, upon the criminal justice system and upon the expeditious enforcement of the rights of victims of crime described herein, in order to protect the public safety and to secure justice when the public safety has been compromised by criminal activity.

To the extent that the Trust Act would protect aliens engaged in so-called "non-violent" crimes — which undoubtedly nonetheless compromise public safety — it would appear that the bill cannot be upheld under the state's own constitution.

UPDATE: The Trust Act legislation was vetoed by Governor Brown.