Blog of Rights

TRUST Act: California Could Set National Model for Correcting the Damage Done by S-Comm

By Danielle Riendeau, ACLU of Northern California at 1:27pm

Juana Reyes is a food vendor and mother of two who was arrested, and detained in immigration jail for two weeks (while her children were taken away and placed in foster care) - all because she was selling tamales in front of a Sacramento Walmart. 

In fact, she had been a food vendor for years, with no incidents.  The trouble only came when a new security guard tried to remove her from the premises, and local police filed trespassing and “interfering with business” charges at her. Just like that, Juana was locked away, even though the state criminal charges were minor and eventually dropped by the local prosecutor. 

Juana’s story is just one of many stories that point to the civil rights and civil liberties problems created by the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities program, also known as S-Comm.  Last week, ACLU members joined other community members in Sacramento to support Juana and to urge the passage of California’s TRUST Act (AB 1081). 

The TRUST Act, authored by California Assembly member Tom Ammiano, aims to counter the damage inflicted by S-Comm on the state of California. Under S-Comm, anytime an individual is arrested and booked into a local jail for any reason, his or her fingerprints are electronically run through DHS’s immigration database. Based on the results, DHS issues immigration detainer requests to local jails, which result in prolonged detention of Californians held in county jails. This prolonged detention occurs at the point of arrest, before any criminal hearing. 

Although DHS claims that S-Comm targets dangerous and violent criminals, in fact the majority of people detained and deported through the program have either no criminal records or have been charged with or convicted of misdemeanors only, including traffic infractions.

S-Comm is fully operational in every California county. DHS is forcibly deploying S-Comm nationwide by 2013, over the vociferous objections of state or municipal leaders in California, Illinois, New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and the District of Columbia. These state and local leaders have rejected S-Comm because the program ensnares U.S. citizens, people with no criminal records and hard-working parents.

S-Comm has had an especially damaging impact on California. On the whole, S-Comm has resulted in the deportations of over 75,000 Californians – more than any other state. It has torn families apart, made entire communities afraid of reporting crime to the police and threatened public safety.

Other jurisdictions across the country have already or are currently attempting to pass measures to limit S-Comm’s harms to civil liberties and public safety. California’s TRUST Act does this by setting a clear, minimum standard for local governments to enforce immigration detainer requests from ICE.  Under the TRUST Act, local jails will not undertake this burden unless the individual has a serious or violent felony conviction. That way, California local police and sheriffs will be able to focus on public safety without worrying about the unintended consequences for immigrant community members who pose no threat to public safety.

Earlier this month, the California Senate voted 21 to 13 to approve the Act. It already passed the California Assembly by a 47-26 vote and will go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote following the summer recess before heading to Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

Many news reports are labeling the TRUST Act as the “anti-Arizona” immigration bill because it will lessen the chance of racial profiling of Latinos and other minorities, while Arizona’s SB 1070 does the opposite.  On June 25, the U.S. Supreme Court failed to strike down the “show me your papers” provision of the Arizona law. 

The TRUST Act, if it becomes law in California, could create a national model for states that want to reaffirm that state and localities – not DHS – know best how to protect their communities and to solve local crime.  In doing this, states can help restore community trust in law enforcement, bolster the integrity of local police and make all our communities safer.

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