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California Lawmakers Defiantly Advance Sanctuary State Legislation

Immigrant rights activists protest in Los Angeles, March 27, 2010. (Photo: Steve Devol/Flickr Creative Commons)

As President Donald Trump threatens to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities, Democratic lawmakers in California are defiantly advancing legislation that would create a statewide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants.

The San Jose Mercury News reports one bill would bar police officers from gathering information on a person’s immigration status or even responding to certain requests from the federal government. Other measures would hire attorneys to defend immigrants facing deportation and block efforts to create a Muslim registry, which President Donald Trump has promised to implement.

Senate Bill 54, introduced by state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would prohibit local law enforcement agencies “from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, report, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”

“We need to stand up for every man, woman and child who has contributed to our community,” Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), who introduced one of the bills and is co-sponsoring another, told the Mercury News. “That is under full-frontal attack by the federal administration now.”

Republican state lawmakers and law enforcement groups argued against the bills, saying they would make it harder to fight crime in the state. “I think this bill is making it that much more difficult for the federal authorities to get the most dangerous criminals that we want to deport to keep our communities safe,” Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) told the San Francisco Chronicle.

However, studies show undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the general population. Many of the safest cities in the nation are also located on or near the Mexican border — including El Paso, San Diego, San Antonio, Austin and Tucson, a fact acknowledged by even some leading conservative voices. The American Immigration Council, a pro-immigrant nonprofit, noted in a recent study that the decades of increased immigration into the US spanning the 1990s through the 2010s also saw a dramatic decrease in crime across America.

Trump vowed throughout his presidential campaign to crack down on sanctuary cities by stripping their federal funding and stepping up immigration enforcement. He repeatedly cited the case of Kate Steinle, a young woman allegedly shot dead on a San Francisco pier in July 2015 by a Mexican immigrant who entered the country illegally five times, as evidence that the nation’s immigration system is broken. Last week, the president moved to fulfill his campaign promises on immigration by signing executive orders authorizing construction of a wall along the US-Mexican border and calling for the suspension of federal funding for sanctuary cities.

Some California Republicans warned against picking a fight with the Trump administration. “If we’re getting $100 billion in federal funding, $85 billion of which goes to local communities, who is Sacramento to jeopardize that funding for our local communities?” Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) asked the Mercury News. “That’s playing chicken with somebody else’s money.”

Sanctuary cities are municipalities that welcome and protect undocumented immigrants, in many cases refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officials. According to the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group, around a dozen California cities have enacted formal sanctuary policies, and none of the state’s 58 counties “complies with detainer requests by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.” Some of the state’s largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Long Beach, Sacramento, Oakland, Santa Ana and Berkeley, have officially declared sanctuary policies. Many other municipalities have partially adopted sanctuary policies.

Many of these cities have vowed to resist policies many residents view as racist, xenophobic and contrary to American values of inclusion and religious tolerance. On Tuesday, San Francisco became the first city to sue the Trump administration over what it called an “unconstitutional” executive order seeking to withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities. “Not only is it unconstitutional, it’s un-American,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It is necessary to defend the people of this city, this state and this country from the wild overreach of a president whose words and actions have thus far shown little respect for our Constitution or the rule of law.”

An estimated 2.5 million undocumented immigrants live in California, out of a total state population of about 39 million.

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) did not comment on any of the pending bills, but he did speak forcefully about the need to protect all immigrants during last week’s annual State of the State address. “Let me be clear,” said Brown. “We will defend everybody — every man, woman and child — who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”

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