This is a pretty juicy, never-revealed before anecdote from Dara Lind at Vox today. Apparently ICE, facing insubordination from localities over Secure Communities and police holds on immigrants, lobbied California’s Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the TRUST Act in 2012. They tried to talk him into a 90-day “pilot program” for California, but talks eventually fell apart. Some believe that Brown eventually signed the 2013 TRUST Act as a response to the “empty promises” of ICE.
How the Obama administration quietly lobbied California to cooperate
In the summer of 2012, both chambers of the California legislature passed a bill called the TRUST Act. The bill was a slightly more moderate version of the policy Cook County and other counties had passed: California would honor some ICE requests to hold immigrants for pickup by federal agents — but only if the immigrant had been accused or convicted of particular serious crimes.
Governor Jerry Brown waited until the deadline to sign or veto bills for the year… and then, in a surprise move, vetoed the TRUST Act. The veto stunned supporters of the bill.
At the time, advocates suspected that the federal government had stepped in to pressure Governor Brown to veto the TRUST Act. The theory seemed far-fetched: ICE spokespeople had said repeatedly that ICE “does not comment on pending legislation,” which many took to mean that the agency didn’t have a position on the bill.
But emails obtained by TRUST Act supporters via the Freedom of Information Act, which have not previously been public, appear to show that ICE Director John Morton and other senior ICE officials did lobby the California governor’s office to veto the TRUST Act.
The emails appear to show that ICE officials proposed that, instead of signing the TRUST Act, Governor Brown could let ICE launch a “pilot program” in California that would limit ICE’s use of detainer requests.
In one of the FOIA emails, dated September 28th — the last weekday before the deadline — a member of the governor’s staff emails ICE Director Morton to reject the latest proposal. “This is getting unbelievable. Really? A 90-day pilot? Do you really think that helps the Governor avoid signing the current version of the Trust Act?” the email says. “I feel that the sand is shifting constantly and we are being played.”
The FOIA emails do not show a final agreement between ICE and the governor’s office, and the “pilot program” never went into effect. Instead, on the Friday before Christmas of 2012, ICE released a new nationwide policy. It told field agents not to ask local jails to hold immigrants for pickup unless the immigrant fell into once of ICE’s enforcement “priorities” — convicted criminals, immigrants with previous deportation orders, or immigrants who had previously been deported.
ICE portrayed its new detainer policy as a major reform. But on the ground, since ICE’s enforcement “priorities” were so broad, the number of immigrants getting picked up from local jails didn’t substantially change under the new policy.
Some supporters of the TRUST Act believe that, in the long run, ICE’s clumsy lobbying effort made Governor Brown less inclined to work with the agency. “The inconsistency, and the way they kept changing what they were offering,” suggests Angela Chan, who helped lead the effort to pass the TRUST Act, persuaded Governor Brown “that there is a need for state law as opposed to empty promises from ICE.” When the TRUST Act was introduced again in 2013, with minor changes suggested by the governor’s office, it passed easily.