Posted by on October 09, 2014 in Blog

By Eddie Bejarano
Fall Intern, 2014

On October 5, 2013 California Governor Jerry Brown signed eight immigrations laws into effect as thousands of Americans across the country demonstrated in support of pushing national immigration reform. One of the eight pieces of legislation signed into law was the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act.

The TRUST Act will ensure that undocumented immigrants would have to be charged with or guilty of a serious offense to be eligible for a 48 hour hold and potential deportation. Reshma Shamasunder, the Executive Director for the California Immigrant Policy Center, summarized the importance of this legislation when she stated, “Today marks the dawn of a new era in California’s immigrant communities.” This historic moment transpired as a result of the blowback against the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities Program (SCP).

The SCP is a federally-run program launched in 2008 to focus on “the removal of aliens who are in the country illegally who have also broken criminal laws.” In essence, the SCP is an information sharing program between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) branch. Under the SCP, after an individual is arrested and fingerprinted, those fingerprints can be used to check immigration status.

If the individual is undocumented, then local authorities can detain that individual for up to 48 hours and transfer the individual into the custody of ICE. Typically individuals are then transported to detention centers and ultimately deported. Since the program’s inception in 2008, 100,000 people from California have been deported and as many as 300,000 nationwide.

While the main individuals targeted by the SCP include murderers, sex offenders, and thieves, the program has swept up thousands of individuals guilty of minor criminal offenses. For instance, some individuals have been deported as a result of driving without a license or minor drug offenses. Due to the high volume of deportations, growing mistrust between local law enforcement officials and the communities they serve has become an endemic issue.

A recent report released by the University of Illinois at Chicago found that “44 percent of Latinos surveyed reported they are less likely to contact police officers if they have been the victim of a crime because they fear that police officers will use this interaction as an opportunity to inquire into their immigration status or that of people they know.” In a letter to Governor Brown, the California Democratic Congressional Delegation accurately concluded that the SCP is scaring people from collaborating with local law enforcement, thereby reducing public safety. The program has also resulted in the violation of civil liberties such as detaining individuals without a warrant or establishing a standard of proof, and has levied a large fiscal burden on local police precincts.

California’s new legislation tempers the negative impact of the Secure Communities Program. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA 19) said, “What this will do for law enforcement in California is that it will ensure that immigrants collaborate with law enforcement.” Several states across the country have adopted similar legislation but whether or not the federal government will alter the SCP remains to be seen. John Sandweg, a former ICE director, believes that it is time to fundamentally change the current practices in place. Sandweg concluded, “Current ICE policy prioritizes these individuals solely because they have previously been caught up in our immigration system, not because they represent a criminal threat. Taking them off the priority list would dramatically advance the president’s goal of a more humane enforcement system and would enhance public safety and border security.”

Since its enactment, the TRUST Act has already started to make a noteworthy difference in communities. The Associated Press reported that 15 of 23 counties responsible for most of CA’s deportations witnessed a 44% drop in people deported because of the SCP. Most importantly, the TRUST Act is the first significant challenge to the SCP and it has been instrumental in influencing similar change around the country. In effect, CA new legislation protects the civil liberties of immigrants and establishes a clear line between the duties of local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement.

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