What Does California Being a “Sanctuary State” Mean for the Undocumented?

By Jair Bautista

Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown made California the first “Sanctuary State” in the nation when he signed SB 54 into law. The move served as a rebuke to the Trump administration’s cynical ploy to tie the future of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigrants to increased militarization at the southern border—not to mention that damn wall. But will California becoming a “Sanctuary State” really live up to the lofty name?

The bill, in its original form, was a powerful safeguard for undocumented immigrants against an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency that’s been instructed to act with impunity and, according to a leaked handbook obtained by The Intercept, for the financial gain of both for ICE itself and local police agencies that collaborate with it. The bold proposal, supported by and with input from undocumented activists, would’ve prevented ICE from freely roaming prisons and jails, questioning suspects without warrants, imposing extra legal restrictions to immigrant detainees, and having local jails imprison people longer for detainer requests.

But the legislation signed into law last week pales in comparison to what it used to look like. California’s “Sanctuary State” bill was refitted with blurred legalese that permits cooperation with ICE when it comes to “serious and violent” crimes that include minor drug violations. In addition, the signed bill would allow ICE to continue their Criminal Alien Program in California, one that accounts for nearly 80 percent of deportations, as well as allowing la migra to roam prisons and jails without the proper warrants. Despite the faults in the final bill, it’s still a big victory for Orange County, the only remaining county in California with a 287(g) agreement, which deputizes local officers to enforce the federal immigration law.

As cities like SanTana and states like California declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, activists must remain vigilant to ensure that’s the case.

Take Oakland, for example. In August, Oakland police assisted an ICE raid that led to the detention of two immigrants despite the Bay Area city declaring itself a sanctuary. Police provided traffic control during the raid and covered for ICE, saying that the presence of federal agents concerned a child trafficking case when actually no such charges were filed. Oakland city council will address the raid next month with their police department and will determine what steps must be taken when law enforcement disregards sanctuary safeguards.

If more questionable raids and deportations continue from Oakland to SanTana, the Golden State will, more often than not, be a refuge for the undocumented in name only.

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