California Governor Defies Federal Law, Limits Deportation Of Non-Violent Offenders

In one of the most expansive efforts to curb federal immigration laws on the state level, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) signed an immigration bill that severely restricts local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities on Saturday. The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools Act, more commonly known as the TRUST Act, could likely counter the damage done by the federal program called Secure Communities (S-Comm), which seeks to hold, and possibly deport, undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours.

Brown is the second governor to roll back local jails’ compliance with federal orders to hold immigrants for detention or deportation. Whereas Gov. Dannel Malloy’s (D-CT) signature on similar legislation in July affects 75,000- 100,000 undocumented immigrants living in Connecticut, Brown’s signature affects 25 to 33 times as many undocumented immigrants living in California.

The TRUST Act is intended to restore community trust for immigrants who are too scared of deportation to report crime to local law enforcement. When the California state legislature passed the bill, sponsor Assemblymember Tom Ammiano said:

We have had families and communities broken up by S-Comm. Federal officials have held people whose worst alleged violation was selling tamales without a permit or having a barking dog. Even crime victims have been deported. We need to end that to bring back trust between our communities and the local law enforcement agencies supposed to protect them.

Brown vetoed last year’s version of the TRUST Act, arguing it allowed law enforcement to release serious offenders. This year, swayed by modified language and public opinion, Brown signed the bill as part of a bundle of immigrant rights legislation. Other new laws penalize employers who exploit workers’ immigration status and allow undocumented immigrants to practice law.


The TRUST Act also earned praise from former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — surprising given that she was crucial in expanding the S-Comms program. Napolitano insisted that S-Comms focused enforcement efforts on offenders who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security. In reality, a recent study indicates that immigration holds are indiscriminate to crime — less than one in nine detained immigrants are serious offenders.

Immigrants living in California have reason to be afraid of S-Comms. After the federal program’s adoption in California, more than 50,000 immigrants, some of whom committed minor crimes like traffic violations, were deported. Nationwide, S-Comm has caused a 400 percent swell in annual deportations since 1996.