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California Trust Act Moves Forward
by Steve Pleich
Sunday May 19th, 2013 2:50 PM
Trust and Equal Protection Under the Law
Last December, in an act of political expediency that shocked and dismayed many immigration activists, Governor Brown declined to sign into law the California Trust Act. Undeterred, the Assembly, led by San Francisco Assembly member and equal rights champion Tom Ammiano, introduced the bill once more. As many of us who have been actively working for the complete abolition or significant revision of the federal Secure Communities Program know, cooperation by local Sheriff's Departments, including our own, with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has worked to substantially abridged the rights of our Latino/Latina community to Equal Protection under the law. And just as troubling is the seed of "distrust" for law enforcement that this program has sown in their community.

According to the California Immigrant Policy Center, 93,500 Californians have been deported under the Secure Communities Program. Secure Communities was conceived as a mechanism to identify "serious and/or felony offenders" in the Latino population and provide a procedure for detention by ICE following arrest. However, the program as a practical matter has resulted in the detention and deportation of Latinos who were charged with minor criminal offenses or, worst of all, were categorized as "noncriminals" according to SComm's own definitions and standards. In point of fact, our county's noncriminal deportation rate is nearly 90%!

Understand this, Secure Communities is not a federal law. It is a federal program and as such local law enforcement is free to exercise its discretion with respect to the scope of individual agency participation. Our own California Attorney General Kamala Harris has confirmed that upholding “hold requests” are voluntary and are not required by local law enforcement agencies. Some elected sheriffs such San Francisco's Mike Hennesey have taken a courageous and principled stand to favor "opting out" of the program altogether. As Sheriff Hennessey so eloquently stated:

"as the sheriff of San Francisco for more than 30 years, I know that maintaining public safety requires earning community trust. We rely heavily on the trust and cooperation of all community members – including immigrants – to come forward and report crimes, either as victims or as witnesses. Otherwise, crimes go unreported – and this affects everyone, citizens and noncitizens alike. It also leads to “street justice,” in which residents who are too afraid to go to the police decide to take justice into their own hands, often with deadly result. San Francisco has always been a city of immigrants. We are proud of our diversity. We value the contributions of immigrants to our community. Law enforcement and other civic leaders work hard to serve all of our residents in an effort to promote the health and safety of our neighborhoods. Unfortunately, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s controversial Secure Communities program violates this hard-earned trust with immigrant residents. Under this program, the fingerprints of everyone booked into a county jail are conveyed electronically to ICE, which checks them against its own database to see if deportation should be considered. This applies to even a minor matter, such as having no driver’s license in one’s possession in a traffic stop".

With a Latino/Latino community that comprises nearly 30% of our 260,000 residents, we too are a community of immigrants who are proud of our diversity and we too must urge our Sheriff to take the same courageous, principled stand. To be fair, Sheriff Phil Wowack has been responsive to the vocal and continuous activism on this issue. ACLU Santa Cruz County, SCCCCOR's Immigration Act Group and the Santa Cruz County Immigration Reform Team continue to work in solidarity in hopes that new and more narrowly defined protocols and assessment tools will be developed in the absence of the complete abolition of the Secure Communities Program that we continue to advocate for.

And so we come full circle to the issue of Equal Protection. It has always seemed to me that when justice is denied to anyone of us, it is denied to us all. The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees equal protection under the law to all persons who are subject to the jurisdiction of our state and our county. That guarantee is not, and cannot, be based upon the color one one's skin or the status of one's residency. So the next time ICE puts a detention hold on a young Latino or Latina based solely on the color of their skin or the status of their residency remember that your rights to equal protection are being detained and abridged just as surely as theirs.