Senate Bill 54

Senate Bill 54, the California Values Act, precludes state and local law enforcement agencies from being compelled to enforce federal immigration laws, at a time when the federal government has failed to make substantive progress on federal immigration policy. In voting in support of SB 54, I based my vote on the principle of states’ rights.  Specifically, that California’s law enforcement resources should not be compelled to enforce federal immigration policy in ways that run counter to constitutionally protected due process or undermine support for, or faith in, local law enforcement agencies.

As numerous economic studies bear out, it is better for our state to acknowledge the vital economic roles that immigrants of all kinds fill in California’s service and agricultural economies.  While inciting fear of “The Other” and making exhortations about mass deportation may play well on talk radio, as a proposed policy framework this is not only unrealistic, but inhumane, and unreflective of California’s values.

In the early phase of the process of drafting and amending SB 54, many of our local law enforcement leaders expressed concerns about how the bill, in its original form, would have left loopholes that might have unintentionally shielded violent criminals from detention or deportation, while preventing state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal agencies on other critical issues, such as drug interdiction and sexual traffic task forces.

While the Senate discussed SB 54, I met with the author of the bill and conveyed those concerns. Among other changes, I was encouraged that the author subsequently amended the bill to require that the Board of Parole Hearings or the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notify the federal government up to 60 days before the release of an undocumented immigrant with a violent felony conviction.

Other amendments to SB-54 also allow local law enforcement agencies to continue working collaboratively with task forces from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well to continue lease agreements which generate millions of dollars to support public safety enforcement throughout the state.  Only when these amendments were included in the bill did I cast my vote for it. The bill now moves on to the Assembly for further deliberation, and if it passes there, on to the Governor.

Finally, it’s important to consider at some of the inflammatory comments regarding this legislation with a critical eye. Under SB-54, documented criminals will not get a “free pass.”  On the contrary, they will continue to face justice in our legal and correctional systems, as well as face deportation after they serve their time. But our economy cannot afford to threaten or deport otherwise law-abiding maids, busboys, laborers, seasonal agricultural workers, mothers and fathers.  It’s simply unrealistic and damaging to many sectors of our state’s economy and a disservice to the immigrant tradition which is, after all, at the very core of our country’s history and the lifeblood of the American Dream.