Fox News misrepresented the TRUST Act, a California immigration bill that would limit law enforcement's ability to detain undocumented immigrants for deportation, claiming the legislation will allow criminals to go free. In fact, the bill is aimed at shielding undocumented victims and witnesses to crimes, as well as those who have committed only minor offenses, from deportation. It also seeks to stop criminalizing undocumented immigrants for the sole civil offense of being in the country illegally.
The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill 4, was passed by the California state legislature on September 10. Gov. Jerry Brown has until October 17 to sign it into law. The bill states:
This bill would prohibit a law enforcement official, as defined, from detaining an individual on the basis of a United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold after that individual becomes eligible for release from custody, unless, at the time that the individual becomes eligible for release from custody, certain conditions are met, including, among other things, that the individual has been convicted of specified crimes.
The bill lists some of the crimes that would prompt law enforcement to detain undocumented immigrants for the 48-hour immigration hold, including violent and serious felonies such as rape, assault, robbery, and selling drugs.
The bill also argues that Secure Communities (S-Comm) -- the controversial and widely criticized program under which law enforcement can detain undocumented immigrants for deportation -- "and immigration detainers harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation." The text continues:
The program can result in a person being held and transferred into immigration detention without regard to whether the arrest is the result of a mistake, or merely a routine practice of questioning individuals involved in a dispute without pressing charges. Victims or witnesses to crimes may otherwise have recourse to lawful status (such as U-visas or T-visas) that detention resulting from the Secure Communities program obstructs.
In an article on the S-Comm program, California's KPBS reported that in the city of Escondido, "collaboration between the city's police and federal immigration activists has caused tension in the city's Latino communities for years." The article continued:
Agents have been present at the police department's driver's license and sobriety checkpoints, and in the city's jails.
Activists say this kind collaboration diminishes public safety because immigrants are less likely to trust police or report crime if they fear that interacting with police could get them deported.
But in a segment on the TRUST Act for Fox News' Special Report, correspondent William La Jeunesse suggested the bill would allow violent criminals to go free and avoid deportation if they are in the country illegally. His report included Marin County Sheriff Robert Doyle saying, "If you or I were victimized by someone stealing our identity, or selling drugs in our community, or burglarizing our homes or embezzling our money, that that's OK. That's a minor crime."
La Jeunesse also wrote a FoxNews.com article that similarly misrepresented the bill. La Jeunesse quoted one critic of the bill claiming that the bill is unconstitutional and that there will be "a high likelihood of individuals, who pose a significant public safety risk who are released into the community for some length of time without no guarantee ICE can put on a detainer at the time of a probable cause hearing."
In fact, the bill is very clear that undocumented immigrants who commit serious and violent offenses -- those listed under the California Penal Code Section 1192.7 (c) and Section 667.5 (c) -- will not be exempt from deportation. Contrary to Sheriff Doyle's claims, those do include selling drugs, burglary, and fraud. According to the Immigration Policy Center, however, "aggravated felonies" can sometimes encompass "more than thirty types of offenses, including simple battery, theft, filing a false tax return, and failing to appear in court."
As the Los Angeles Times noted in an editorial, the bill "would prohibit police from detaining those arrested for minor offenses -- such as disturbing the peace, street vending or traffic violations -- solely for immigration purposes." The Times added: "That's an important change that has earned the support of local police chiefs and sheriffs who worry that Secure Communities is forcing police to act as immigration agents."
The Times went on to call for Gov. Brown to sign the bill, writing:
Initially billed as a powerful tool that allowed federal officials to target immigrants convicted of serious crimes, Secure Communities requires state and local police to provide the fingerprints of anyone arrested to federal officials. Those fingerprints are then checked against criminal and immigration databases. That sounds fine in theory. In practice, however, the program has failed to distinguish between violent felons and street vendors. Since the program began, thousands of noncriminals have been deported, and more than 3,000 U.S. citizens have been detained, sometimes for weeks or months, on immigration holds known as detainers.
Indeed, according to data from Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, only 29 percent of those deported between October 2008 through May 2013 were level 1 offenders -- the most serious of crimes. The rest of the deportees were split between those convicted of misdemeanors (49 percent) and those who had committed no crime (22 percent). In California, 23 percent of those deported since the program's implementation in May 2009, more than 23,000 immigrants, had not been convicted of a crime.
After analyzing new data for S-Comm deportations in California, the California Immigrant Policy Center found that 12 percent of the undocumented immigrants deported in January had no criminal conviction.
A number of law enforcement officials, including the sheriffs of Los Angeles and San Diego Counties, and state representatives like House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, support the TRUST Act. Attorney General Kamala Harris has also criticized the S-Comm program.
On June 25, Connecticut approved its own version of the TRUST Act. Similarly, counties in Chicago and San Jose, California, a parish in New Orleans, and the city of Newark in New Jersey have all refused to honor ICE immigration holds.