Gloves off, California vs. Trump

Protesters in Los Angeles, three days after Donald Trump's election. (Photo: llewellynchin, via Shutterstock)

In the fight between President Trump and California over immigration, many wonder whether a state — even one as massive as this one — can successfully confront the White House.

Thus far in Sacramento, the answer is yes — from the governor on down.

On March 13, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved and sent to the Senate floor SB 6, which would ensure legal representation for undocumented residents undergoing deportation proceedings. The bill is part of a legislative package designed to protect California’s large undocumented population from President Trump, who has described an aggressive immigration policy through fiery rhetoric and promises of a border wall.

“We can’t control the Trump administration. We can, however, control how California spends its precious tax dollars.” — Senate Leader Kevin de León

“The matter of immigration and the policies coming out of Washington are of grave concern to the people of California and to me personally,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a Feb. 24 press conference. “We are announcing what we believe and we’re telegraphing what steps we’ll take, and over the next weeks and months we’ll have more to say and more to do.”

Those steps involve a cluster of proposed bills, including SB 6, designed to protect California’s undocumented residents using road blocks to federal immigration enforcement at every step of the deportation process. Most were placed on a fast track and sent to the Senate floor.

The measures have support from many Democrats, who hold decisive, two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Brown, whose signature would be required to make the bills, also is a Democrat.

SB 54 bars state and local authorities from sharing data with the feds that might result in an undocumented resident’s detention. SB 31 blocks state and local officials from providing registries or information on residents’ nation of origin, ethnicity or religion, while AB 3 provides immigration training to state public defenders.

While the California Legislature has no hand in federal government activity, state officials can throw a wrench in the Trump immigration agenda through the allocation of state and local resources.

Senate Leader Kevin de León, chief proponent of the state’s immigration package push, admits as much.

“We can’t control the Trump administration,” De León, D-Los Angeles, told the Senate Appropriations Committee. “We can, however, control how California spends its precious tax dollars.”

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents could never be stopped from carrying out raids and detentions within California. But California observers have long noted ICE’s limited resources and stressed the need for enlisting local agencies to work alongside them.

Advocates argue that it is in the state’s economic interest to push back on Trump’s proposed deportation program.

“It’s important to recognize the huge effects something like this will have because the federal government is really hoping to rely on these state and local resources,” said Carmen Iguina of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has worked alongside state officials on the bills.

SB 6, also known as the Due Process for All Act, would serve as another bump in the immigration process. By ensuring legal representation for immigrants facing deportation, the bill will almost certainly lower the number of California removals. State officials estimate the bill would cost about $12 million to put into effect.

According to Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, who introduced the bill, over two-thirds of detained immigrants in California do not have legal representation. Yet detained immigrants with legal representation are five times as likely to succeed in challenging their removal. Iguina says immigrants who aren’t detained and have legal counsel are 10 times more likely to stay.

Backers of the immigration package bills argue that, given California’s large undocumented population, it is in the state’s economic interest to push back on Trump’s proposed deportation program. There are also concerns over breaking up families, and stories of undocumented victims of crimes afraid of reporting them to local officials for fear of being deported.

California’s sheriff departments oppose SB 54 in particular, saying that federal cooperation is important to keeping their communities safe. Opponents to the bills also include small but vocal groups such as The Remembrance Project and We the People Rising.

“I think they’re both bills to try to thumb their nose at President Trump,” said Robin Hvidston, executive director for We the People Rising, referring to SB 6 and SB 54. She believes the outcome of the California-Trump conflict depends on where the president’s attention lies.

“I hope that he does focus on our state and I would like to see lawfulness restored,” she said.

According to the Public Policy Institute of California’s most recent data, California was home to up to 2.6 million undocumented residents in 2014 — almost a quarter of the nation’s 11 million. Naturally, the state is now Ground Zero for the discussion over illegal immigration.

The Trump administration did not respond to a request for an interview, and Brown’s office declined to comment.

But in his Feb. 24 briefing, Brown said California faces “an unprecedented set of changes that will affect real people in our state and we want to do everything possible to protect them.”


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