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Why did Brown veto the TRUST Act?

Supporters of the TRUST Act rally outside Central Men's Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Supporters of the TRUST Act rally outside Central Men's Jail in downtown Los Angeles.
Ruxandra Guidi/KPCC

After a California bill that would have limited how state and local police cooperate with federal immigration officials was vetoed last night by Gov. Jerry Brown, the focus has now shifted to why.

Yesterday was the deadline for Brown to sign or veto a host of bills, among them two key immigration measures. One was known as AB 2189, which directs the state Department of Motor Vehicles to allow young undocumented immigrants who receive temporary legal status under a new federal program to obtain California driver's licenses.

The other was known as the TRUST Act, a bill sponsored by Bay Area Democratic Assembly member Tom Ammiano that proposed restricting who state and local cops can hold for immigration officials, limiting it to just those with felony convictions or other specified serious offenses. The measure was intended to work around the federal Secure Communities program, which allows for fingerprints of people booked at local law enforcement facilities to be shared with Homeland Security.

In the end, Brown signed AB 2189 and vetoed the TRUST Act. The explanation in the governor's veto statement:

...I am unable to sign this bill as written. Under the bill, local officers would be prohibited from complying with an immigration detainer unless the person arrested was charged with, or has been previously convicted of, a serious or violent felony. Unfortunately, the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes. For example, the bill would bar local cooperation even when the person arrested has been convicted of certain crimes involving child abuse, drug trafficking, selling weapons, using children to sell drugs, or gangs. I believe it's unwise to interfere with a sheriff's discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with these kinds of troubling criminal records.

That Brown vetoed the bill doesn't come entirely as a surprise. The bill caused a divide even among law enforcement, with some supporting it but many others in strong opposition, including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Some observers had speculated that with a less politically sensisitive immigration bill, i.e. driver's licenses, on a different burner, that Brown may choose one and not the other.

Wendy Rae Hill, a senior legislative aide to Ammiano, didn't think this was the case but wasn't clear on what failed to make the cut.

"This governor doesn't do that," Hill said. "This governor signs policy based on the policy, and as far as we are concerned, there is no reason why all of the immigration bills could not have been signed into law."

Others believe that pressure from law enforcement, including federal authorities, played a part.

"There were only two organized voices in opposition to the bill, the sheriffs and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)," said Chris Newman, legal director of the immigrant advocacy group National Day Laborer Organizing Network, who believes there was veto pressure coming from the federal agency.

ICE has credited Secure Communities with helping the agency achieve the Obama administration's stated goal of deporting immigrants with criminal records, and contributing to record deporations in general. However, critics point out that many who land in deporation proceedings under Secure Communities are non-offenders or low-level ones. Under the program now, if an individual's fingerprints match immigration records, local cops place the person on an immigration hold for ICE.

Brown's statement read that "the significant flaws in this bill can be fixed" and that he would work with legislators to this end.

Hill said Ammiano's staff held meetings with the governor prior to the veto taking place, and that "we don't feel like we need to go back to the drawing board and redo anything."

But the bill will most likely come back in some form, Hill said: "We will meet with the governor and try to determine what his specific concerns are that were not articulated during any of the meetings that we had prior to the veto, and keep on working on it."