New immigration laws going into effect in the New Year could impact the way some local law enforcement agencies operate.
State lawmakers passed Senate Bill 54, or the "California Values Act" this year, a law that sets limits on how much local police can help federal immigration authorities.
SB-54 was met with strong opposition, at first from the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Sheriff’s Association.
The police chiefs’ association changed their position on the bill to neutral after a long list of 800 violent and series felonies were added as exemptions to the law.
But most local law enforcement agencies say they already follow policies that mirror the California Values Act, including the San Diego Sheriff’s Department's (SDSO).
“First and foremost, we absolutely want all residents in our communities to feel safe when reporting crimes or coming forward as a witness to criminal acts,” a statement put out by SDSO about the new law read.
Immigration Attorney Victor Torres says, currently, agencies often work with immigration authorities on investigations involving violent crime.
That means if police are investigating sex trafficking or gang violence, they can work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This will continue under SB 54.
“But, does that mean if you go into a house to investigate trafficking of minors, and the one person you are looking for isn’t there, but you’ve got ICE agents with you, are you then allowed to check everybody’s immigration status? I say no. But, is that what’s going to really happen?” Torres asked.
Torres says a big change will be how the sheriff’s department operates county jails, making it illegal for them to move inmates over to detention centers.
SDSO listed new regulations for their detention facilities in regards to SB 54. The statement said that deputies in their detention facilities would comply with all state and federal acts, including the California Values Act.
The statement also said in part, "We will not provide information regarding a person's release date" and "We will not transfer an individual to immigration authorities unless authorized by a judicial warrant or judicial probable cause determination."
On the second point, the department did stipulate that if ICE agents were present at the time of the release, ICE may take them into custody.
Torres said the law ensures that low-level offenders enter the court system without the threat of ICE.
“So, basically, what this does is basically puts these really low-level offenders, who really aren’t harming anybody, back on the street under bail, so they undergo their state court proceedings without having ICE come into the middle of it,” Torres said.
The Trump Administration has threatened to challenge the new law in court, and even withhold federal funding to the state of California when it goes into effect January 1.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has blasted SB 54 as “unconscionable” and “a threat to public safety.” And the federal administration has tried challenging cities with similar policies in court without success.
Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez-Fletcher, whose district includes San Diego’s border region, said legally there isn’t much the feds can do.
“The courts have been clear that they’re not going to be able to take away funding simply because we have established ourselves in a way that allows our police officers to do the work our local communities think they should do,” Gonzalez-Fletcher said.
Gonzalez-Fletcher believes the bill will make San Diego area communities safer.
“You think about how we teach our children: ‘If something is wrong, you run to a police officer,’” she said. “We don’t want an entire community teaching their children: ‘If you see a police officer, you run the other way.’”
The new law doesn’t spell out what happens if local law enforcement agencies don’t comply with new rules.