California Immigrants Lobby for Sanctuary State Bill

The California Values Act would prevent state, local and school police from enforcing immigration laws or using their resources to investigate, detain or arrest people for immigration violations. Photo: Thinkstock

When Raul Lopez was young, he lived in a one-bedroom house in Oxnard with his family of 10 and about 13 others, most of them farmworkers.

His parents “kept their heads down their whole lives,” going to work in the agricultural fields that thread through this town, and gradually building a better life for Lopez, now 34, and his seven siblings.

When Lopez was 12, he got a job picking strawberries to help the family survive. Now, with the election of President Donald Trump and the federal crackdown in immigration enforcement, he feels once again called to help his family.

Lopez, an organizer for the immigrant right’s group Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, or CAUSE, is lobbying state legislators to pass SB 54, a bill that would make California a so-called sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. The legislation would limit how law enforcement officers in California share data with federal immigration authorities and require many public buildings to be safe zones for immigrants.

“It hits close to home for me,” said Lopez, who along with one other sibling is a U.S. citizen. The rest of his family members are undocumented.

What the Bill Would Do

California has about 3 million undocumented residents and one in ten workers in California is undocumented, according to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, a democrat from Los Angeles who introduced the bill.

Called the California Values Act, the legislation would prevent state, local and school police from enforcing immigration laws or using their resources to investigate, detain or arrest people for immigration violations.

Under the proposal, state and local law enforcement would be allowed to notify federal authorities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement before convicted serious or violent felons were released from custody.

The bill would also require public schools, public libraries, courthouses and county hospitals and clinics to have policies about being safe places for immigrants.

The California Senate easily passed the bill in a 27-12 vote in early April. The legislation is now awaiting a vote from state Assembly, which is expected to occur in the coming days or weeks.

Jon Rodney, communications director at the California Immigrant Policy Center, which is organizing local groups statewide to lobby for the bill, said his organization is “confident that the bill will move forward.”

“There is really broad recognition that immigrants are a vital part of our communities and we need to stand up to the Trump Administration,” he said.

State law enforcement organizations are divided on the bill. Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who opposes the bill, said it could result in federal immigration authorities casting a wider net for undocumented immigrants. Meanwhile, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart has endorsed the bill, saying it would improve public safety.

The bill needs a majority of votes to clear the Assembly. California has a supermajority of Democrats in both houses. If it passes in the Assembly, the bill would move to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. If signed, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

Lopez was one of about 80 Ventura and Santa Barbara county residents who took a seven-hour bus trip to Sacramento in mid-May to lobby for the passage of the sanctuary state bill.

“I feel like it’s my turn to speak up and stand out,” he said. “My parents have the fear of deportation, but guess what—I don’t have that fear.”

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