Immigration Reform 2013: A Critical Pro-Immigrant Bill, the TRUST Act, Gains Traction in California


The crowds lined up today, with nearly 100 community members from throughout the state of California, inside the Public Safety committee meeting at the California state capitol. I was in Sacramento today to watch the debate, to hear the pros and cons, and to be astounded at the line of supporters standing up to speak in support of AB4, the Trust Act, as it went through committee review.

Chaired by Member Amianno (D-S.F.), the committee heard testimony from Thomas Saénz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal and Defense Fund (MALDEF), and Ruth Montaño, a Bakersfield woman who was targeted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for barking dogs and, subsequently, her immigration status. Mrs. Montaño said, in part, that the Trust Act is a solution to protect people from these types of abuses. Saénz was emphatic in his desire for "recognition by the state of California of the important contributions [made] by those who have not been convicted of committing a serious crime or, in many cases, any crime."  

Member Amianno, the bill's author, spoke eloquently of the "real faces of domestic violence situations being put into [Secure Communities] S-Comm deportation hearings" for choosing to trust in the police to help them, and about how "California cannot afford to expend its few resources" in the detention of future citizens, people who otherwise would be eligible for proposed legalization pathways, which I have written about previously

Assembly Bill 4 (AB4), the Trust Act seeks to prohibit "law enforcement officers from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold after that person becomes eligible for release from criminal custody, unless certain conditions are met." Those conditions merely mean to hold the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE to the standards they set forth when S-Comm was developed. To date, under guise of seeking to detain and deport serious or violent offenders, 72,694 Californians have been deported. 70% of those are "people without criminal records, including victims of domestic violence, or people charged with lesser offenses."

Other reasons offered for considering this bill include the negative impact on community policing that has been documented as communities begin to fear their local police rather than trust them, as well as the cost to local communities shouldering the burden of tracking, arresting, detaining, and holding those whom have an ICE detainer. 

The California State Sherrif's Association was on hand to speak against the law, citing concerns for release of violent offenders, an obligation to follow directives from federal agencies, and, ridiculously, the notion that just because someone "has no apparent record of prior state criminal offenses, it does not mean that the person has not committed serious violations of federal law or is not a threat to national security." Apparently the CSSA thinks the possibility of past or future crime is enough to lock people up. I'd call that position a threat to all of our personal security.

After debate, with two members dissenting, AB4 was moved out of committee and onto the next step of the process of becoming law. The bill needs to be approved by the Assembly and State Senate before going to the governor for a vote. Cheers to those members who had the vision, compassion, and intelligence to move forward on this critical legislation. Californians deserve it. And the revelers filled the hallway with congratulations and cheers and hugs, I among them. 

Governor Brown vetoed similar legislation last year, citing the exclusion of certain serious crimes from the list of deportable crimes. Such concerns have been addressed in the current bill and the author has high hopes of it passing this year. 

*All photos are the author's.