Dispute helped sideline California sanctuary bill for illegal immigrants


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A difference of opinion in the immigrant-rights community appears to have contributed to the demise of state legislation that would have provided a safe haven in California for those who came to the country illegally but have otherwise obeyed the law.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) introduced a bill that would have provided a sanctuary in the state for many immigrants who came to California illegally before 2008.


SB 901 was supported by immigrant rights groups including the Central American Resource Center and Hermandad Mexicana, but it never received a final vote as the Legislature ended its session Aug. 31. The bill ran into concerns by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), which worried about a requirement for undocumented immigrants to register with the state Department of Justice, officials said.

‘We met with MALDEF several times about SB 901 where they expressed concerns over privacy issues related to the legislation,’ said Ben Golombek, a spokesman for Fuentes. He said legislators asked the group to provide amendments to address their concerns.

‘Unfortunately we never received anything from them,’ Golombek said. ‘It’s disappointing that instead of taking an opportunity to constructively participate in the process and address their concerns, they chose to lobby against the bill.’

Thomas A. Saenz, the president and general counsel for MALDEF, said his group was neutral on the bill, but that he told Fuentes’ office that there were constitutional problems in having the state register, track and do background checks on immigrants. ‘That is a federal responsibility,’ Saenz said. The attorney said he told Fuentes’ staff that the problem could be fixed by taking out the requirement that immigrants register with the state Justice Department.

But there appears to have been another complication as well. The Legislature had approved a separate bill known as the Trust Act, that would prohibit local authorities from complying with federal detention requests against suspected illegal immigrants except when a suspect has been charged with a serious or violent crime.

Saenz said the Trust Act was his group’s priority because, unlike SB 901, it did not require the ‘politically dicey’ act of getting the federal government to agree to a new scheme.


One source in the middle of the talks said there was concern by some in the immigrant community that if Gov. Jerry Brown also received SB 901, he might have signed that one and vetoed the Trust Act as less far-reaching. In the end, SB 901 never reached the Senate floor.


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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento