Crime & Justice

5 ways being a 'sanctuary state' wouldn't change much

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/AP

The deal reached this week between Governor Brown and a key state lawmaker on the "sanctuary state" bill may smooth its way to becoming law. The measure's author, Senator Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), said it would "provide landmark protections for our undocumented community." 

The measure, which must receive final approval by the end of this week, would limit cooperation between California police and sheriff’s departments and federal immigration authorities.  

But the bill may end up changing relatively little in terms of how local law enforcement agencies interact with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Here are five provisions in the bill that would ultimately deliver less than they promise.

The 800 crimes

Perhaps the most significant part of the legislation deals with the release of unauthorized immigrants after they've served their sentences. It says sheriff’s officials could notify federal authorities about an impending release if the person has committed one of about 800 crimes. That would leave out hundreds of less serious offenses, including drunk driving and petty theft of items valued at less than $950 – even if the person has multiple convictions of such crimes.

Immigrant rights advocates say this change in the law could potentially prevent the deportation of many immigrants, but that isn't certain. For example, this provision wouldn't change anything in Los Angeles County, the state's largest – it already posts the release dates of all inmates online. And as a practical matter, immigration doesn't go after most of those who committed misdemeanors, because it doesn't have the resources to do so.

The California State Sheriffs' Association continues to oppose the compromise because it believes sheriffs should not be prohibited from notifying ICE about any of the thousands of crimes on the books.

ICE in Jails

The bill would prohibit federal immigration agents from setting up shop inside county jails, but that's already the case in most of the state.

For years, ICE had offices in many of the larger lockups across California to facilitate its screening of inmates to determine if they were in the country illegally.  Under a program known as 287(g), agents could randomly interview inmates as they were about to be released. But Los Angeles and most other counties already have ended the program, which was widely criticized for leading to racial profiling and the deportation of otherwise law-abiding long term unauthorized immigrants who had committed minor crimes.

Under De Leon's bill, ICE would still be able to interview people inside jails, with their consent, and sheriff's officials could still directly transfer people to ICE without releasing them from custody.

Police Acting as Immigration Agents

Under the 287(g) program, local police officers and sheriff’s deputies can be deputized as immigration agents and participate in identifying and removing people in the county illegally. The compromise bill would prohibit the practice. But the Orange County Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state that currently allows its deputies to act as immigration agents, according to the Department of Homeland Security's list of participants.

Most senior police officials in California believe if they allow their officers to help enforce immigration laws, immigrant communities would no longer trust them and they would stop reporting crimes for fear of being deported.

Joint Task Forces

The bill would ban local police and sheriff’s departments from participating in federal task forces whose primary purpose is to round up unauthorized immigrants. But most agencies already don't do that, according to the state Sheriffs' Association.

Under the legislation, law enforcement could contribute officers to other types of joint operations, including human trafficking, child exploitation and transnational gang task forces. But local police would have to provide documentation of their participation and guarantees to the state Department of Justice that they were not involved in deporting people.

Renting Space to ICE

Under the bill, local sheriffs would be banned from expanding space inside their jails for ICE to detain immigrants, but current arrangements could continue. For example, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department rents out space to ICE to house nearly 1,000 immigrants inside its jails. That deal, worth more than $36 million annually, would be left untouched by the legislation.