California ‘sanctuary’ bill gets support from law enforcement, rebuke from Trump administration

Los Angeles County Sheriff James McDonnell.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

California’s new “sanctuary state” bill limiting local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration agents drew support Saturday from Los Angeles officials, but a stinging rebuke from the Trump administration, whose Justice Department said the measure “undermines national security and law enforcement.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti said he was “grateful” to the legislature, while Police Chief Charlie Beck said the bill built on 40 years of the city’s efforts to foster trust in immigrant communities.

“We are committed to reducing crime through community partnerships and constitutional policing,” said Beck.

The legislation passed early Saturday drastically scaled back the version first introduced, the result of tough negotiations between Gov. Jerry Brown and the bill’s author, Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), in the final weeks of the legislative session. The bill, SB 54, must still be signed by the governor.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, an early and prominent opponent of the bill, said the changes had satisfied his concerns that it would hurt immigrants more than it would help them.


“While not perfect, [the bill] kept intact our ability to maintain partnerships with federal law enforcement officials who help us in the fight against gangs, drugs and human trafficking,” McDonnell said in a written statement. “It also retains the controlled access that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to our jails.”

The Trump administration, which earlier threatened to withhold federal grants from sanctuary cities, warned that the bill threatened public safety.

“Just last month another illegal alien allegedly killed a community volunteer, yet state lawmakers inexplicably voted today to return criminal aliens back onto our streets,” said Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S Department of Justice. “This abandonment of the rule of law by the Legislature continues to put Californians at risk, and undermines national security and law enforcement.”

Called the “California Values Act,” the sanctuary bill initially would have barred state and local enforcement from holding, questioning or sharing information with federal immigration agents about immigrants in custody unless the immigrants had violent or serious criminal convictions.

McDonnell had broken ranks with many other Los Angeles elected officials by opposing the initial legislation, arguing that if immigration agents could not pick up people from the jails, they would go looking for them in the streets, spreading fear and curtailing immigrants’ cooperation in criminal cases.

The amended bill would allow federal immigration authorities to keep working with state corrections officials and to continue entering county jails to question immigrants. The legislation would also permit police and sheriffs to share information and transfer people to immigration authorities if they have been convicted of one or more crimes from a list of 800 outlined in a previous law, the California Trust Act.

Under added provisions of the bill, however, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation would have to develop new standards to protect people held on immigration violations, and to allow immigrant inmates to receive credit toward their sentences for time served if they complete rehabilitation and educational programs while incarcerated.

The state attorney general’s office would have to develop recommendations that limit immigration agents’ access to personal information. The attorney general also has broad authority under the state Constitution to ensure that police and sheriffs’ agencies follow SB 54’s provisions should it be signed into law.

More than 150 communities have laws or policies that restrict the ability of police and jails to hand over people who are in the country illegally to federal immigration officers. The Trump administration in April warned nine jurisdictions, including Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans and New York, that they risked losing federal grants by sidestepping cooperation with federal agencies.

Top politicians in Los Angeles — a fulcrum of Trump resistance — had avoided the sanctuary label. But the City Council this month moved to declare L.A. a “city of sanctuary,” in response to Trump’s August announcement that he would unwind a program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said the bill achieved only “incremental” progress, and he called on local law enforcement to fully implement its provisions.

“The scapegoating and persecution of immigrants is what has made our community unsafe,” Alvarado said. “With this bill, our state is telling Trump: ‘Mr. Trump, you can keep your money. We’ll keep our immigrant community.’ ”

Twitter: @geholland

Times staff writers Jazmine Ulloa and Andrea Castillo contributed to this story.


4:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional comments from local and federal officials.

1:20 p.m. This article was updated with addition comments from local and federal officials.

This article was originally published at 11:50 a.m.