TRUST Act Moves Forward and Could 'Force' Fed's Hand on Immigration

PHOTO: File -  Activists and community leaders attend a rally and a news conference in support of the TRUST Act.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

A California bill that would limit how law enforcement cooperates with federal immigration authorities is a step closer to passing the state legislature. Assembly Bill 4, dubbed the TRUST Act, cleared the state assembly's public safety committee Tuesday and will return to the assembly for a second reading.

This is the third version of the bill in California that would limit how state and local law enforcement comply with requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold individuals already in custody for an extended time while immigration authorities take steps towards their deportation. The new legislation would require state and local authorities to comply with ICE holds – or detainer requests – only if the individual in question has been convicted of a serious crime.

Through a data-sharing program called Secure Communities, ICE identifies individuals with immigration violations through an FBI fingerprint database.

This program and cooperation by local authorities has been criticized by civil rights and pro-immigration reform advocates. They charge that the program casts a net too broad and makes immigrants unnecessarily afraid of local law enforcement.

Secure Communities has contributed to record numbers of deportations by immigration authorities. In California, the program has led to nearly 80,000 deportations.

Jirayut Latthivongskorn, an undocumented immigrant, said he was robbed at gunpoint outside of his apartment when he was a student at UC Berkeley. He did not report the crime out of fear of coming into contact with police.

"As much as I wanted to [report it] for my own safety and for the safety of the other students, I knew better – I knew that because of programs like Secure Communities ICE had been detaining people who had come in contact with local law enforcement," he said, in testimony for the bill. "That's how living here undocumented I've come to understand law enforcement. And that's not how it should be."

The proposed legislation has inspired similar bills in Connecticut, Florida and Massachusetts. Efforts spread the legislation aim to on curb deportations and increase pressure on federal authorities.

"If we can pass enough of these, it would force the federal government's hand to say 'we can't depend on the states to do our job,'" said Connecticut State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, a Democrat who is sponsoring legislation.

Opponents have said that legislation like AB 4 goes too far in limiting ICE's ability to deport immigrants and ensure public safety.

"I don't want to turn the state of California into one giant sanctuary city," said California Assemblymember Melissa Melendez, a Republican on the state assembly's public safety committee. "We don't want to end the deportation of criminals. We certainly want our communities to be safe – no matter your legal status."

California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a previous version of the bill. He said that while he agreed with the proposed legislation in principle, the bill limited law enforcement too narrowly.

Also on Tuesday, the Asian Law Caucus, one of California TRUST Act authors and sponsors filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against ICE seeking to uncover information on "undue influence over the democratic process," a statement read.

"Did ICE's behind-the-scenes maneuvers last year quash community efforts to stop thousands of cruel and costly deportations?" said Angela Chan, Senior Staff Attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. "We filed this lawsuit to vindicate the public's right to know."

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