Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck for the first time offered his full support for a bill that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from carrying out immigration laws, calling it an important proposal that protects the trust between his department and the neighborhoods it polices.
"This is not a soft-on-crime bill," Beck said Monday at a Los Angeles news conference, with former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León. "This is not an anti-law enforcement bill. This is a bill that displays courage. The courage of Californians, the courage of Angelenos to understand that when we stand together we are much more effective than when we stand apart."
The endorsement is a boon for De León (D-Los Angeles), who authored Senate Bill 54 and has grappled with opposition from law enforcement groups over claims that it could weaken their ability to detain dangerous or repeat criminals. It came as Holder unveiled a letter to U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions arguing that the legislation "is constitutional and not preempted by federal law."
Holder was temporarily hired by the Senate and Assembly to serve as outside counsel to offer advice on the state's legal strategy against the incoming administration. He and his firm, Covington & Burling, analyzed the legislation as part of that contract and concluded "states have the power over the health and safety of their residents and allocation of state resources."
"California is doing the right thing," Holder said of moving the bill through the Legislature. "This is something that needs to be done nationwide."
Senate Bill 54, the so-called sanctuary state bill, was sparked by the Trump administration's broadened deportation orders. It would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security, from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for immigration enforcement.
To address some concerns from police chiefs and sheriffs, De León amended the legislation to allow local and state officers to participate in task forces — and work alongside federal immigration officers — as long as their main purpose is not immigration enforcement. Other changes have loosened communication restrictions between local law enforcement agencies and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials concerning violent felons.
The latest provisions also allow law enforcement officers to contact and transfer people to ICE, with a judicial warrant, if they encounter someone who was previously deported for a violent felony. And they permit law enforcement to transfer or detain a person at the request of ICE if a judge finds there is probable cause to do so.
The latter amendment drew Beck's approval. In the past, he has gone only so far as to say he agreed with the bill's "underlying tenets," but that he wanted to ensure police could still go after dangerous criminals.
On Monday, the police chief said he worked closely with De León's office to ensure it addressed all law enforcement concerns, and that it struck a balance between public safety and preserving community trust. The legislation will allow officers to concentrate on violent criminals who are not in the country legally, he said, and if necessary, to use their illegal status to detain them.
He described the bill as a reflection of California's values, his own and those of the Los Angeles Police Department, which he said had honored the "Special Order 40." The 1979 mandate prevents officers from approaching people solely to inquire about immigration status.
"We depend on our communities, particularly the immigrant communities, not only to keep them safe but to keep all of you safe," Beck said. "Without that cooperation we all suffer."
But as President Trump and Sessions have threatened to slash federal funding from so-called sanctuary cities, the state legislation has continued to stir Republican lawmakers and sheriffs. They argue its provisions could strain the state's finances and shield dangerous criminals.
The bill cleared its first hearing last week in the state Assembly, where Cory Salzillo, legislative director for the California State Sheriffs' Assn., argued the legislation still lacked clarity on task forces, and would prevent vital collaboration among sheriffs and ICE officials. By prohibiting federal immigration officers from interrogating immigrants in jails, he said, it would force them to go into communities, potentially leading to the detention of more people.
"ICE is going to do what ICE is going to do, and there will be collateral impact when ICE does that," Salzillo said.
De León countered that sheriffs were elected officials who operated in a different culture, but he pledged to continue working with them.
In Los Angeles on Monday, he pointed to an order from a federal judge blocking the president's order to strip funds from municipal governments that refuse to cooperate fully with immigration agents.
"Still, our local law enforcement officers are under threat of being commandeered into the president's deportation forces," De León said. "Senate Bill 54 will protect local police against a federal overreach that will have forced them to enforce immigration laws instead of carrying out the everyday duties that keep our communities safe."
5:05 p.m.: This article was updated to include an additional amendment to the bill.