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ICE Warns of 'At-Large Arrests' After California Becomes a 'Sanctuary State'

President Trump's immigration chief ripped into Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday for signing legislation that creates a statewide sanctuary policy, saying the federal government will be forced to "conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites" of undocumented immigrants.

By Melody Gutierrez

President Trump's immigration chief ripped into Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday for signing legislation that creates a statewide sanctuary policy, saying the federal government will be forced to "conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites" of undocumented immigrants.

In a highly critical statement, Tom Homan, acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said California's new law undermines public safety and makes it harder for federal immigration officials to do their jobs.

He said Brown's decision to sign SB54 on Thursday makes "California a sanctuary state for illegal aliens -- including those who have committed crimes."

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who wrote SB54, immediately fired back Friday, saying Homan's comments were inaccurate and amounted to fearmongering.

"The Trump administration is once again making heavy-handed threats against California because we won't help them tear apart families and our economy in the process," de León said.

SB54 bars law enforcement officers in the state from arresting individuals based on civil immigration warrants, asking about a person's immigration status, keeping an undocumented inmate in jail on an immigration hold, or participating in any joint task force with federal officials for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws.

The bill does not prohibit federal immigration officials or the Department of Homeland Security from enforcing federal immigration laws in California. Instead, the law says California will not use its own law enforcement resources to help the federal government in those actions. De León introduced the bill in direct response to Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants, which has left many in fear.

"These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day," Brown wrote after signing the bill Thursday.

Brown did not comment Friday on Homan's remarks.

SB54 allows local jailers to notify immigration officials when an undocumented immigrant in custody has been convicted of a violent felony, as well as hundreds of other crimes. The law largely exempts prisons in the state, allowing state corrections officials to work with immigration officials, although prison inmates have to provide written consent for federal immigration agents to interview them while in custody.

State prison officials can still hold and transfer undocumented inmates at the request of federal immigrations agents. The inmate is required to be notified of the action.

Despite de León, Brown and some law enforcement officials in the state saying the bill does not interfere with ICE operations, Homan said it will.

"SB54 will negatively impact ICE operations in California by nearly eliminating all cooperation and communication with our law enforcement partners in the state," Homan said, adding the law also prohibits "local law enforcement from contracting with the federal government to house detainees."

By limiting their ability to work with jailers, Homan said they will have to focus immigration enforcement in communities instead of jails and prisons, "which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests."

But ICE agents might have a tougher time raiding businesses in California too, under a second law the governor signed Thursday.

That legislation, AB450, by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, bars private and public employers from allowing federal immigration authorities to look at records or conduct workplace sweeps unless they have judicial warrants to do so. The law, like SB54, takes effect Jan.1.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said he stands "ready to fully defend" the sanctuary protections.

San Francisco, Los Angeles, Oakland and dozens of other jurisdictions in California already have sanctuary city policies, with proponents of the protections saying it ensures undocumented immigrants can report crimes without fearing it will lead to their deportation.

San Francisco's sanctuary city policy bans city employees from helping or cooperating with federal immigration agents in an investigation or arrest related to a person's immigration status. It also bars employees from asking people who are applying for city benefits about their immigration status or providing information about the release of an inmate, except in limited circumstances.

Local sanctuary policies have not stopped federal immigration officials from immigration sweeps, including one last week that resulted in 27 people in the Bay Area being arrested, most with past criminal convictions. The sweep was part of an effort by the Trump administration to target sanctuary cities. Last week's raid in eight states and Washington, D.C., resulted in 498 people from 42 countries arrested, of which 181 had no previous criminal conviction, according to ICE.

Ed Medrano, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said SB54 still allows for some partnerships with federal immigration agents, such as for criminal investigations, easing concern his group had with the bill initially. The bill does bar those partnerships when the focus is immigration enforcement.

Medrano said the law "reaffirms what we have held since the beginning, which is that California law enforcement should not be used to assist in mass deportations."

(c)2017 the San Francisco Chronicle

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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