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California Legislature

Gov. Jerry Brown and Senate leader Kevin De León strike deal on changes to 'sanctuary state' legislation

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Gov. Jerry Brown and state Senate leader Kevin de León agreed Monday to amend a "sanctuary state" bill that would limit the role of state or local law enforcement agencies in holding and questioning immigrants in the country illegally.

Senate Bill 54, which De León introduced earlier this year, would prohibit police and sheriffs from asking about a person's immigration's status, detaining people for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "hold" requests and participating in any program that deputizes police as immigration agents.

Brown had made it clear he wanted changes to the original language of SB 54, and those negotiations have been underway at the state Capitol for several weeks.

Under amendments endorsed by Brown on Monday, the bill would allow law enforcement officers to transfer and share information about inmates convicted of roughly 800 crimes not specified in the bill's earlier iterations.

That list of offenses, which include many types of felonies but also crimes that could be charged as misdemeanors, was originally crafted as part of the Trust Act, which Brown signed in October 2013, and prohibited law enforcement agencies from holding people for ICE longer than 48 hours for most minor crimes.

Other major amendments include:

  • Immigration authorities would be able to interview people in jails, but will not be given permanent office space in jails.
  • Officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would be exempt from the bill, but required to provide increased protections for immigrant inmates and required to offer them the same chance as other prisoners at earning time credits toward their sentences.
  • Federal immigration agents would have access to law enforcement databases. But the state attorney general's office would develop recommendations that would largely limit the agents' access to information. 
  • A series of technical changes to the bill's language to ensure officers can participate in joint task forces.

"This bill protects public safety and people who come to California to work hard and make this state a better place," Brown said in a statement.

SB 54 has attracted national attention and is the centerpiece in Democrats' legislative agenda to protect immigrants without legal residency after President Trump’s call for expanded deportations.

To address concerns from Republican lawmakers and sheriffs, De León amended the bill earlier this year to allow officers to continue working on federal task forces not focused on immigration enforcement, and to permit greater communication between ICE and law enforcement regarding felons with violent or serious convictions.

But the California Sheriffs Assn. still opposed the bill, while immigrant rights groups urged Brown not to cave in to those demands at a time of fear for immigrant communities.

The Sherrifs Assn. did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The California Police Chiefs Assn., which opposed the bill, said it has switched its position to neutral.

“The compromise reached on Senate Bill 54 does two things: It addresses the significant public safety concerns we raised during this debate, and it reaffirms what we have held since the beginning, which is that California law enforcement should not be used to assist in mass deportations,” said Gardena Police Chief Ed Medrano, president of the police chiefs group. 

Joseph Tomás McKellar, co-director of the immigrant rights group PICO California, said in a statement Monday that the bill isn’t perfect but would “ensure California leads the country towards keeping thousands of families united while rebuking the demonization and scapegoating of immigrants and other racially and economically excluded groups.”

The bill must still be approved by the state Assembly, where its fate has remained uncertain. Final action must come before lawmakers adjourn for the year Friday.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said he "supports SB 54 and the compromise reached by Gov. Brown and Sen. De León."


5:21 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the amendments, and with reaction from law enforcement associations and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

This article was originally posted at 2 p.m.

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