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California’s Trust Act Aims for Passage on Third Attempt

As an immigration attorney,I consider it part of my professional responsibility to observe how other states are responding to federal immigration policies. While some states enact policies that take extra steps to make sure people residing in their state are there legally, other states actually make enforcement of federal immigration statutes and programs more difficult. California’s legislature is attempting to pass the Trust Act, which would make enforcement of some federal immigration laws more challenging for federal law enforcement agencies.

Passage of the Trust Act has been attempted twice before. The first version of the Trust Act allowed California law enforcement agencies the option of not complying with the Secure Communities portion of federal law. Secure Communities provides federal authorities with the fingerprints of all perpetrators arrested by local law enforcement and prepares all immigration law violators for deportation. Before this Act could have been passed, the federal government modified the Secure Communities provision, making it mandatory.

In the second version of the Trust Act, the Secure Communities provision was limited to specific situations. Because the Secure Communities provision does not distinguish between hardened criminal offenders and immigrants without prior convictions, California took the added step of allowing some immigrants to go free before the Secure Communities requirements of the federal statute could be enforced.

Although this version of the Trust Act passed through the California Legislature with significant support, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the act. He pointed to two major flaws in the legislation. The Trust Act places additional burdens on local law enforcement; they must now decide which immigration law violators were serious criminals and which were merely hapless victims without documentation.

The second flaw Gov. Brown spotlighted was that the Trust Act allowed the possibility of serious criminals like drug dealers and child abusers being released. In an attempt to sidestep the federal mandate, local authorities were being granted the privilege of releasing immigrants deemed non-serious offenders. Gov. Brown believed that this privilege was too expansive and asked the legislature to craft a more restrictive version.

Gov. Brown has stated that he would consult with legislators to draft a bill that would meet his requirements, but he has yet to do so. The California Legislature has developed a new version called Trust Act 3.0 that is almost identical to the last version, except that it allows police the option of freeing immigration law violators unless they have been convicted of a serious or violent crime. This version does not detail the list of offenses that would necessitate imprisonment and deportation, and appears to raise the threshold of detainment to conviction rather than being charged with a serious crime.

It is unknown whether Gov. Brown will sign this newest version of the Trust Act into law, but California police have already made it clear they are unwilling to become agents for federal immigration law enforcement. Los Angeles police will no longer detain undocumented aliens for minor offenses. The Attorney General of California has directed law enforcement agencies within the state to consider immigration detainers as “requests”, not commands. In essence, California has taken additional steps to make enforcement of immigration law more difficult for federal agencies; only serious criminals will be held for deportation and fingerprint submission.

The Trust Act is not a national policy and is in contradiction to the more rigorous policing standards found in other states like Arizona.


As an immigration attorney serving immigrant communities in Texas, I have knowledge of the immigration policies for the country and the state of Texas. If you would like to learn more about these or other immigration issues, please contact my office at (512) 215-5225.