Of the hundreds of bills California lawmakers will act on this week, few combine as many incendiary issues -- illegal immigration, civil rights, crime and punishment -- as the so-called TRUST Act.
The measure would in many cases prevent California law-enforcement agencies from participating in a federal immigration dragnet that has led to millions of deportations.
Gov. Jerry Brown last year vetoed a similar bill, but its supporters are trying again because they say that holding people without due process, whether they are in the country legally or not, is a matter of civil rights.
"It's not the kind of thing that people associate with the United States of America, outside of Guantanamo Bay," said Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese, defending his county's 2-year-old policy of uniformly ignoring federal requests to detain people on immigration grounds.
But law enforcement officers say such policies -- and, potentially, the TRUST Act -- could hamstring their ability to hand dangerous criminals over to immigration authorities and keep California's streets safe.
"My best solution is to have a federal law and state law that are not in conflict with each other, so it's easy for law enforcement personnel to follow both laws," said Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern.
AB4 is just one of the meaty issues lawmakers must take up before their session ends Friday. Others include a raft of gun-control bills; raising the minimum wage; reforming California's main environmental protection law; and figuring out how to appease federal judges who have deemed the state's prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded.
A state Senate vote on AB4 could come as early as Monday, according to the office of the bill's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
Currently, when someone is booked into a county jail, the suspect's fingerprints are sent to the FBI for comparison with criminal databases. Under the Secure Communities program launched in 2008, the FBI shares that information with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. If ICE thinks the inmate might be deportable, it asks jail officials to hold that person until an immigration agent can review the case and perhaps take the inmate away for deportation.
The TRUST (Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) Act would forbid jail officials -- even in conservative counties that favor detention -- from honoring those immigration holds in many cases.
The governor, who as attorney general signed a federal-state Secure Communities partnership agreement in 2009, vetoed the bill similar to AB4 last year because it would have let local police hold only those arrested for or previously convicted of serious and violent felonies. That category, Brown noted in his veto message, doesn't include crimes such as child abuse, drug trafficking, weapons sales and gang activity.
"I believe it's unwise to interfere with a sheriff's discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with these kinds of troubling criminal records," Brown wrote.
So Ammiano went back to the drawing board. His bill now includes many other offenses for which California jailers can honor federal immigration holds.
But the California District Attorneys Association still opposes the TRUST Act, fearing it "would frustrate local cooperation with federal officials who maintain exclusive province over the enforcement of immigration law," legislative director Cory Salzillo said. "It appears that this bill would permit a local policy to trump federal law, and it is not clear how such a provision would pass constitutional muster."
California Attorney General Kamala Harris disagrees. Last December, she told law enforcement agencies they need not cooperate with all ICE holds. Dangerous criminals should be held for potential deportation to protect public safety, but local police can set their own policies on when to honor federal requests for immigration holds, she said.
In Alameda County, Supervisor Richard Valle authored a resolution that the board of supervisors approved in April asking Ahern to stop honoring ICE holds. "When it comes to civil rights, we can't give an inch because whatever you give, you'll never get back," Valle said Friday.
But the sheriff still detains inmates if ICE asks.
Santa Clara County supervisors went further than the Alameda County board in 2011, becoming the nation's second jurisdiction (after Chicago's Cook County) to release inmates unless ICE pays to detain them -- which it refuses to do.
Cortese said Friday he remains comfortable with the policy, which he says both reduces the county's jail costs and protects people from what he believes is unconstitutional detention.
But Santa Clara County's district attorney and sheriff have urged supervisors to tweak the policy so the county can honor holds on undocumented immigrants with serious criminal backgrounds. District Attorney Jeff Rosen last year said his study of detention requests found the county had refused to detain six felony sex offenders or child molesters, eight residential burglars, 10 people with documented gang ties and 12 drunken drivers who injured people or had repeated offenses -- all within five months.
Chief Assistant District Attorney Jay Boyarsky said Friday that his office still wants the policy changed "so that the public safety is adequately protected from felons."
The TRUST Act, AB 4 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would let law enforcement officials cooperate with the federal Secure Communities program by holding someone for immigration review only if the person: