Sacramento, Calif. (CN) – Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder joined California State Senator Kevin de Leon and law enforcement officials to announce their support for a “sanctuary state” law that restricts the information state agencies will be allowed to share with federal immigration authorities.
At a press conference in Los Angeles, the officials discussed Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, which allows local police to duck out of fully cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The measure passed out of the state Senate Apr. 3 and the Assembly Committee on Public Safety moved it forward last week.
From the start, law enforcement has been cautious about the measure. The bill’s author, de Leon, D-Los Angeles, has written in substantial amendments in response to their concerns to ensure they can still do their jobs.
“The California Values Act is absolutely consistent with the values of the Los Angeles Police Department,” Los Angeles Chief of Police Charlie Beck said. “All of our concerns were addressed. We can still concentrate on violent criminals who also happen to be illegal immigrants, and we can use that status to enforce the law if necessary.”
De Leon said the measure will reduce crime, rather than allow criminals a free pass in the state.
“If you are a convicted felon, someone who is convicted of a violent or serious crime, local police officers as well as local sheriffs, have the ability, free and clear, to engage with ICE,” de Leon said. “There has been a lot of erroneous narratives that have been pushed out there.”
De Leon blamed “AM right-wing talk radio” for whipping up sentiment against his measure.
Sacramento Police Department Captain James Beezley said SB 54 protects the trust developed between police and residents of California.
“We have a duty to protect and serve all of our community members,” Beezley said. “To a large degree, police work is about trust. We rely on the trust of the community to report crimes and partner with us to prosecute those responsible for criminal activity.”
“We are here with a very clear purpose, to underscore the undeniable truth that enhancing trust between law enforcement and the diverse communities they serve is essential for the safety of all residents of this great state and the nation,” said Holder. “California is leading. California is doing the right thing. This is something that needs to be done nationwide.”
Speaking on behalf of the mayor of Los Angeles, Chief of Immigration Affairs for the City of Los Angeles Linda Lopez said no one should live in a state of constant fear.
“Everyone should feel comfortable approaching law enforcement for help and all people should have their rights protected,” Lopez said. “If any immigrant – undocumented or otherwise – is afraid to approach law enforcement out of fear about questions of their status, it erodes our public trust that is essential to all our public safety.”
Under federal law, immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government. Courts have upheld challenges against federal authorities who attempt to conscript or coerce local law enforcement to operate as immigration officers.
The Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal funds from states that enact “sanctuary state” policies. Holder said these efforts are both unconstitutional and baseless.
“The federal government does not have the authority to force states to do something that is inherent to federal authority,” said Holder. “Neither Congress nor the president may require California to redirect its resources to enforce federal immigration law.”
“I don’t care how much money the federal government withholds from us,” Beck added. “We don’t believe that it is legal to [enforce immigration law], and we don’t think it is proper to do this. Your principles cannot be bought, and ours won’t.”
Beck pointed out that the Los Angeles Police Department is primarily a patrol division, while the Sheriff’s Department is primarily responsible for incarceration. The Sheriff’s Association has voiced concern about allowing ICE agents into jails and courthouses.
An amendment to the bill ensures that a person convicted of a serious crime in California will do time in a California prison before being released to ICE agents. The bill establishes that California authorities will notify ICE no less than 60 days before an illegal immigrant who has been convicted of a felony is released.
“Irregardless (sic) of whether you are from Ireland or India, if you commit a serious crime, you should do your time in a California prison,” de Leon said. “You should not do a crime in California and have ICE pluck you out of jail and deport you, only to have you come back once, twice, three times.” To illustrate his point, de Leon highlighted the murder of Kathryn Stienle in San Francisco in 2015 by an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times.
“Immigration authorities will have access to anyone who is illegal and detained in California, with a federal arrest warrant,” de Leon said.