By Alex Emslie
SF State Xpress
Immigrant rights advocates in San Francisco are wondering if they can still consider Gov. Jerry Brown an ally after he recently vetoed bills that would have expanded the rights of farm and domestic workers and protected some suspected undocumented immigrants from federal enforcement.
Brown vetoed the Trust Act Sept. 30 to the dismay of advocates and many law enforcement officials who believe the federal Secure Communities program deports innocent immigrants and citizens, undermines community policing efforts and exhausts local resources. The program automatically sends the fingerprints of anyone booked to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and federal agents request local jails to hold some suspected undocumented immigrants.
About 200 immigrants’ rights advocates protested outside the San Francisco State building Oct. 4 in response to Brown’s vetoes.
“Gov. Brown has no right to do what he did. We’ve had 80,000 deportations from California under Secure Communities, more than any other state by a landslide — more than Arizona, more than Alabama, more than Georgia,” said Angela Chan, an attorney with the Asian Law Caucus, one of four organizations that sponsored the Trust Act. “Every single deportation after this is because of him.”
The Trust Act would have required local law enforcement to ensure suspects were charged or had been convicted of a serious or violent felony before complying with federal immigration holds.
ICE officials say Secure Communities is an indispensable tool in choosing which undocumented immigrants pose a public safety risk, but immigrant advocates counter that the program often sweeps up innocent immigrants, those guilty of only petty crimes and even some in the U.S. legally.
During the protest, SF State apparel design and merchandising major Bo Seo wrote a note to Brown urging him to give money spent on ICE holds to schools instead. He said the immigrant rights protected by the Trust Act amounted to a humanitarian issue.
“S-Comm (Secure Communities) is morally wrong,” said Seo, a member of Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education. “Don’t separate families just because of immigration status.”
ICE statistics show that 55 percent of those deported have been convicted of a crime, and about 90 percent fit into ICE’s other priorities, including repeat immigration violators, recent boarder crossers and immigration fugitives.
Statistics no longer available on ICE’s website from the period between October 2008 and February 2012 showed 73 percent of people deported through Secure Communities were not charged with violent felonies. About 26 percent were never charged or convicted of any crime.
In his Aug. 27 endorsement of the Trust Act, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr noted findings of UC Irvine Immigrant Rights Clinic stating, “ICE’s failure to adhere to its own stated priorities is a feature rather than a reparable flaw of S-Comm.”
“Immigrant victims and witnesses of crime may be reluctant to come forward to cooperate with local law enforcement for fear that they may be automatically reported to ICE and detained for deportation under S-Comm,” Suhr wrote.
Brown’s veto was not a wholesale rejection of the Trust Act. In a statement released with the veto, Brown wrote that federal agents should not try to coerce local law enforcement into immigration policing, a practice the Department of Homeland Security has called “force multiplying.”
“Unfortunately, the list of offenses codified in the bill is fatally flawed because it omits many serious crimes,” Brown wrote. “For example, the bill would bar local cooperation even when the person arrested has been convicted of certain crimes involving child abuse, drug trafficking, selling weapons, using children to sell drugs or gangs.”
The Trust Act relied on the California Penal Code definitions of “serious” and “violent” crimes, which are listed by section 1192.7 and section 667.5 respectively.
“What Brown’s office has done is scoured both of these lists (which have considerable overlap — most violent crimes are serious crimes) for holes in them,” said Jeffrey Snipes, SF State criminal justice studies department chair, in an email.
Snipes said Brown may be using the Trust Act as an opportunity to more broadly define serious crimes in the penal code and he might be genuinely concerned that violent criminals will fall through the cracks if the act became law. According to Snipes, another take is that the governor is using these few holes as a way to justify vetoing a bill he doesn’t want to sign.
A representative for California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who authored the Trust Act, said redefining serious or violent felonies was unlikely because those definitions are used in several other areas of criminal law, including the three-strikes law and California’s prison realignment program. The representative spoke on a condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for Ammiano.
“To the extent that he (Brown) did not engage with us for two years and then vetoed it on a technical issue, it is frustrating,” the representative said.
Both Ammiano and his representative said they plan to work with Brown to fix the technicality and reintroduce the Trust Act, but the soonest a new draft of the law could take effect would be January 2014.
Ammiano acknowledged federal progress on immigration reform, like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but said California cannot wait for the federal government to fix its immigration enforcement system. Many people at the Oct. 4 protest said they felt betrayed by Brown, who they thought of as an ally.
“The governor just didn’t veto the Trust Act, he vetoed trust,” Ammiano said.
A version of this story was published in the San Francisco State Golden Gate Xpress online on Oct. 8, 2012, and in print Oct. 10, 2012.