With the campaign trail winding down to two mainstream presidential candidates, one who has proven himself to be inept on immigration reform, another who promises to be even more odious, it seems like the battle over immigrant rights is increasingly being waged on the state level, with reactionaries in Arizona, Georgia and other states imposing racial profiling laws and other policies that expose migrant communities to discrimination, arrest and deportation. One bright spot might be California, where the clock is ticking for Governor Jerry Brown to sign the TRUST Act: it’s landmark legislation to curb police powers in their everyday interactions with immigrants. This is a targeted response to federal program Secure Communities, which encourages collusion between local and federal authorities in drawing undocumented people into deportation proceedings, and in turn further undermines police-community relations.
Lawrence Downes of the New York Times explains why such a policy is needed as state and federal law enforcement agencies are growing disturbingly intertwined when it comes to cracking down on undocumented immigrants:
Under California’s bill, local police would agree to hold inmates for ICE only if they have been convicted or charged with a serious or violent felony. If the inmates are noncriminals or minor offenders who would otherwise be let go, they would not be turned over to ICE.
As the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, said: “We want police to distinguish between the woman selling tamales and the gang member who has a record.”
In theory this is not a problem for ICE, which supposedly shares Mr. Ammiano’s priorities. Its officials insist that their main focus is catching “the worst of the worst” — dangerous and violent felons, not peaceable violators of civil immigration laws. In reality, immigration has become a numbers game of mounting arrests and deportations. The Obama administration is deporting 400,000 people a year, tens of thousands of whom have no criminal records or only minor convictions.
This proposal–widely endorsed by community groups and scholars–of course wouldn’t let the federal government off the hook for leading the charge to deport hundreds of thousands of people. While the Obama administration has initiated some reforms to avoid deporting some immigrants–particularly those who don’t have any criminal convictions and young people who seek to study or work in the U.S. –Washington and state lawmakers continue to play good-cop-bad-cop as they mutually deploy an insane amount of public resources into ruining the lives of people who are embedded in our economic and civic life. For the working parents and young people who have become ensnared in the country’s xenophobic dragnet, the TRUST Act is one measure that might protect them as they seek to work and live peacefully in their communities. There’s a long wait ahead for meaningful nationwide immigration reform, but until then, it falls on policymakers in California and other states to keep immigrant communities safe, and enable them to show–through their economic contributions, cultural presence and grassroots political advocacy–how this country can’t afford to lose them.