California's 'sanctuary state' bill protecting immigrants approved by state Assembly

Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Valley, is seen speaking before the Assembly, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California's "sanctuary state" bill that would limit police cooperation with federal immigration authorities cleared a major hurdle Friday when it was approved by the state Assembly.

The Senate was scheduled to give final approval to the legislation before lawmakers wrap up the legislative year late Friday or early Saturday.

The measure, which cleared the Assembly in a 49-25 vote with support only from Democrats, would bolster immigrant protections that are already among the toughest in the nation.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced his support this week after the top Senate leader, the bill's author, agreed to water it down and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to cooperate with immigration officers in many cases.

The legislation is the latest effort by Democratic lawmakers in California, home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization, to create barriers to President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to step up deportation efforts. They've also approved money for legal assistance and college scholarships for people living illegally in the U.S., and made it harder for businesses and government agencies to disclose people's immigration status.

California lawmakers are debating the measure as the U.S. Congress considers offering legal status to young immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

"Our immigrant communities, whether documented or undocumented, feel under attack and they are scared," said Assemblywoman Eloise Gomez Reyes, D-San Bernardino. "Especially with the tone that's been set at the national level."

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, introduced SB54 shortly after Trump's election to cut off most interactions between federal immigration agents and local police and sheriff's officers. Following sharp dissent from law enforcement officials and Brown's intervention, it was scaled back significantly.

The final version prohibits law enforcement officials from asking about a person's immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement efforts. It also prohibits law enforcement officials from being deputized as immigration agents or arresting people on civil immigration warrants.

Police and sheriff's officials, including jail officers, will still be able to work with federal immigration authorities if a person has been convicted of one of some 800 crimes, mostly felonies and misdemeanors that can be charged as felonies. But they'll be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offenses.

Immigration advocates generally applauded the latest version, even with de Leon's concessions. For them, the bill delivers a rare victory during Trump's presidency, preserving some protections for people in the country illegally and adding others.

California police chiefs dropped their opposition but sheriffs, who run jails where the biggest impacts will be felt, remain opposed.

"In my view this bill's going to make us less safe," said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton. "It's going to protect the criminal at the expense of the law abiding citizen."

The changes did not mollify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan, who said the bill will deliberately destruct immigration laws and shelter criminals.

"If California politicians pass this bill, they will be prioritizing politics over the safety and security of their constituents," Homan said in a statement this week.

California's Democratic political leaders have positioned the nation's largest state as a foil to Trump and his administration. They've passed legislation and filed lawsuits aimed at protecting immigrants, combating climate change and blocking any future attempt to build a registry of Muslims.

A federal judge in Chicago ruled Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions cannot follow through with his threat to withhold public safety grant money to so-called sanctuary cities for refusing his order to impose tough immigration policies.

Click here for more stories about sanctuary cities.

Related Topics:
politicssanctuary citiesimmigrationdeportationimmigration reformPresident Donald Trumpdonald trumpICEjeff sessionsattorney generalcalifornia
(Copyright ©2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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