Years ago, California tried to take the punitive and xenophobic approach to immigration with Prop 187 — a 1994 ballot initiative whose stated goal was to keep undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits, but would have essentially turned California into a police state for immigrants. Fortunately, Proposition 187 was invalidated by the courts. But instead of learning from California, states like Arizona, Alabama, and a handful of others are repeating the same mistakes and passing similar laws designed to turn anyone who looks or sounds “like an immigrant” into a suspect and make them feel unwelcome in their own homes.
But last week, the California State Senate showed just how far the state has come—by passing Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) TRUST Act, the antithesis of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070 law.
Arizona’s law attacks immigrants by making local cops turn them over to the federal government for deportation—destroying the trust between immigrants and local police. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration is also pushing for local-federal cooperation on immigration through its so-called “Secure Communities” program, which turns routine police work into an immigration status check, and has led to record deportations of immigrants who have never committed a crime. Under “Secure Communities,” undocumented persons are often detained for very minor violations, such as driving without a license, and end up on the path to deportation. In California alone, more than 75,000 immigrants have been deported since Secure Communities began there in 2009, and more than half of those immigrants were either convicted of no crime or convicted only of minor offenses.
The TRUST Act, which has the support of over 100 immigrant rights groups, police chiefs, and mayors, seeks to restore the public trust police need for community safety. The TRUST Act would address some of the problems with Secure Communities by telling police to only send immigrants who have serious convictions to ICE for deportation. It would allow hardworking immigrant mothers and fathers to go to work and live their lives with less fear of harassment and deportation, and would mend the rift between immigrant communities and the police that is vital to the success of community policing. This makes the TRUST Act essentially the opposite of Arizona’s SB 1070: while SB 1070 treats every immigrant as a priority for deportation, the TRUST Act lifts up legitimate threats and zeroes in on true public-safety priorities.
The bill has moved on from the California Senate to the Assembly, which is highly likely to pass it. Next, it will move to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, and Latino and community leaders are expecting the Governor to sign it and show the rest of the country what smart and fair immigration policy looks like.
The TRUST Act is simply a common-sense policy—in a world of limited resources and police power, law enforcement should target dangerous criminals for deportation, not hardworking mothers and college students. And when criminals at large threaten all of us, those with information must be encouraged to come forward—not scared away from doing so. Opponents of the bill are simply relying on their tired talking point that anything short of deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants is “amnesty.” They’ve got nothing else to offer.
We hope that Governor Brown is ready to lead California full-circle, rejecting its Proposition 187 past and sending a message to states like Arizona and Alabama that mass deportation is not the answer. Immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is.