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September 3, 2013
Guest Opinion: Bill would help California limit deportations

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(Sept. 3 -- By Cruz Reynoso, Special to The Bee)

The current version of the TRUST Act - Assembly Bill 4 - would restore balance to unreasonable immigration "holds" in local jails that have wasted local resources, hurt families and sabotaged trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

From the time of Solomon up to the present day, balance - the art of finding an equitable middle ground - has been a central principle of justice.

To uphold that principle, I believe that Gov. Jerry Brown needs to champion the current version of the TRUST Act - Assembly Bill 4 - and resist misguided efforts by some to gut the bill.

The measure by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would restore balance to unreasonable immigration "holds" in local jails that have wasted local resources, hurt families and sabotaged trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.

And the bill now represents a delicate compromise from last year's bolder version, incorporating the great majority of a framework proposed by the Governor's Office.

Last year, Brown regrettably vetoed TRUST, but he embraced the bill's goals and pledged to immediately work on a modified version. Meanwhile, thousands more Californians have been unfairly deported.

I've been anxiously waiting for progress, because the stakes are higher than ever for California to take decisive action to limit deportations.

A federal immigration overhaul with a roadmap to citizenship has the best chance in decades. This could transform the lives of millions of contributing Californians who are Americans in all but paperwork. But these aspiring citizens are still at risk of being deported over trivial or discriminatory arrests.

For example, Bakersfield resident Ruth Montaño was spared deportation this spring only after a public campaign challenged the unfairness of her arrest over barking dogs, which triggered a week-long immigration "hold" in the local jail. In fact, from January to May of this year, some 8,500 Californians were deported under holds issued through the dysfunctional "Secure Communities" deportation program. Most cases were not in ICE's most serious category.

The TRUST Act would set a minimum standard for local law enforcement across the state, limiting when people may be held for extra time - beyond the point they would otherwise be released - solely at immigration authorities' request.

The question is exactly which types of crimes "holds" should be allowed for. Bear in mind, the whole enterprise of holding people for extra time, at local expense, merely because ICE thinks it may be able to deport them is constitutionally suspicious.

Based on my experience as an attorney and jurist, I believe the current version of the bill represents a reasonable middle ground and should be approved without delay.

First of all, the TRUST Act which the governor vetoed last year allowed holds only for serious and violent felonies under California law, the same tight standard that triggers the first strike in our state's "three strikes" sentencing law. But Brown said in his veto he wanted immigration holds allowed for more crimes. And the present version does exactly that, listing many crimes that would authorize a hold.

Second, an important feature of the bill as written is that holds would not be allowed solely on the basis of federal immigration violations like prior deportation orders or "re-entry" offenses. As 53 legal experts noted in a recent letter to the governor, these result from broken policies that tie immigration judges' hands and deprive many deportees of fundamental due process. People return after unfair deportations to be with their families and to work.

In fact, our immigration system is so dysfunctional that the federal government considers many trivial, nonviolent misdemeanors to be serious, "deportable offenses," even for legal permanent residents.

We need to the lead the nation out of this policy quagmire, not deepen it. So our local police and sheriffs should have nothing to do with enforcing these immigration violations, yet some within the California State Sheriffs' Association are apparently urging the governor to the contrary.

The governor should respectfully decline that course of action. It would unacceptably blur the lines between local law enforcement and the immigration system, with negative consequences for public safety. In May, a scientific survey of Latinos in four cities, including Los Angeles, found police-ICE collaboration made 70 percent of undocumented immigrants less likely to contact law enforcement even if they were a crime victim.

Finally, from my time as an attorney as well as on the bench, I know charges are sometimes overblown. We should uphold the principle of innocent until proven guilty - especially since ICE now gets fingerprint data of every single person at the point of arrest, anyway.

Unfortunately, the TRUST Act now allows many immigration holds before someone has been convicted. But at least the hold is tied to a point relatively far along in the process. This key legal principle must not be eroded any further.

For the sake of balance - and equity - I hope California will enact the TRUST Act as written.

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