SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Reacting swiftly to President Donald Trump’s immigration order, California lawmakers on Tuesday advanced reforms that would bar state law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agents and dedicate state funding to immigrants fighting deportation.
Led by state Senate leader Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, Senate Democrats bemoaned Trump’s frenzied executive order which sent immigration officials scrambling over the weekend to detain and deny entry to hundreds of refugees and visa-holding immigrants at U.S. airports. They testified during committee hearings Tuesday that quickly updating the state’s immigration policy is crucial to stopping immigration “witch hunts” and “dragnets” sparked by Trump’s new laws.
De Leon testified that the president’s order “confirmed some of our worst fears,” and implored the Democratic-led Senate Public Safety Committee to advance his proposal, Senate Bill 54.
“His deportation policy will be a dragnet for thousands if not millions of hardworking immigrants,” De Leon said.
His proposal, dubbed the California Values Act, would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from spending money or dedicating resources to immigration matters without a judicial warrant. And officers be barred from gathering information about an individual’s immigration status or give federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents access to detained individuals.
“Entangling state and local agencies with federal immigration-enforcement programs diverts already limited resources and blurs the lines of accountability between local, state and federal governments,” the bill states.
Over 50 advocacy groups and individuals lined the cramped hearing room and testified in support of the plan to freeze ICE out of the Golden State. Proponents included the American Civil Liberties Union, Service Employees International Union, the Sierra Club and former Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
The California College & University Police Chiefs Association warned the committee that requiring local and state law enforcement agencies to cooperate with ICE orders could potentially spoil its relationship with students.
“We have a number of people we protect who are immigrants and we do not want people to be reluctant to come forward,” said association lobbyist John Lovell.
The two Republican committee members peppered De Leon with questions and called the legislation a “knee-jerk reaction” to Trump’s divisive immigration stance.
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, argued SB 54 is too broad and calls on the state to harbor immigrants convicted of violent felonies.
“I’m concerned that you’re basically making the state of California a de facto sanctuary state,” Stone said to De Leon.
The California Peace Officers Association and the California State Sheriffs’ Association joined Stone and state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, in opposition of SB 54.
Stone asked the Senate leader to consider an amendment that would narrow the bill and allow law enforcement agencies to hand over immigrants convicted of crimes including sexual assault, armed robbery and vehicular manslaughter to ICE agents.
De Leon refused, saying that the bill does not prevent state agencies from complying with ICE but rather requires the feds to obtain judicial warrants.
After over an hour of debate, the committee cleared the proposal on a party-line 5-2 vote.
Following Trump’s election, California’s Democratic leaders have promised to protect the state’s estimated 2.4 million undocumented immigrants from federal policy changes. Last week, Gov. Jerry Brown touted the state’s rich immigrant history, noting his own relatives’ migration to the Golden State in the 1852.
According to the Pew Research Center, undocumented immigrants make up nine percent of California’s labor force and are critical to the state’s agriculture, construction and hospitality industries.
A pair of companion immigration proposals also cleared their first legislative hurdle Tuesday. The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced proposals subsidizing legal aid for immigrants and a bill forbidding state and local agencies from providing information regarding an individual’s religious beliefs to federal agencies.
Senate Bill 6 was approved 5-2, with lawmakers heeding the emboldened recommendation of committee chair state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Jackson pointed to decades of inaction by Congress on immigration policy and said California should provide legal help to immigrants because the federal government doesn’t.
“When immigrants are forced to go up against a federal attorney, they lose when they don’t have counsel,” Jackson, former Santa Barbara County prosecutor, said. “They are at an extraordinary disadvantage.”
The proposal by state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would require the State Department of Social Services to contract with qualifying legal services nonprofits, such as the Public Law Center and National Immigration Law Center, to defend individuals facing deportation proceedings. It would prohibit state funding from being used to provide legal services to individuals previously convicted of violent crimes under California’s penal code.
The subsidized legal services would be funded by the state’s general fund, although the bill doesn’t include an estimated cost to taxpayers.
The Democratic authors are seeking to fast-track the immigration bills through an urgency clause. If passed by both chambers and approved by Brown, the bills would take effect immediately.
The final immigration proposal heard Tuesday was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. Senate Bill 31, proposed in response to Trump’s murmurings about creating a nationwide Muslim registry, would prohibit state or local agencies from revealing “identifiable information regarding a person’s religious beliefs.”
The California Religious Freedom Act is backed by the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation, with proponents calling it a “backstop” to a potential Muslim registry.
The San Francisco-based nonprofit foundation condemned past national databases for violating citizens’ civil rights, specifically the shameful World War II program used to put Japanese-Americans in internment camps.
“The U.S. Census Bureau shared its supposedly confidential data about the names and addresses of Japanese Americans with the military officials in charge of internment,” the foundation stated in a SB 31 support letter. “While the government initially gathered this personal information for a legitimate purpose, the government wrongfully diverted it to an illegitimate purpose.”