A bill known as the Trust Act that California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed on September 30, 2012, would have encouraged immigrants to report crimes and seek redress, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposed bill would have mitigated some of the harmful effects of Secure Communities, a federal program that involves local police in civil immigration enforcement, fostering a fear of law enforcement authorities in immigrant communities.
“California could have shown tremendous leadership by passing the Trust Act, which encourages all victims of crimes, regardless of immigration status, to call the police,” said Grace Meng, US researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Until the act or similar legislation goes into effect, immigrants will continue to fear even minor contact with the police, as even a traffic stop could lead to arrest and deportation.”
Under Secure Communities, a federal program active in much of the United States, local law enforcement agencies are required to share fingerprints they collect with federal immigration authorities, who then ask local law enforcement to detain certain people, regardless of whether criminal charges are pending. Although the Obama administration claims it is focusing its resources on dangerous criminals, the majority of immigrants deported through Secure Communities have been categorized by the federal government as “non-criminal” or lower level offenders.
Human Rights Watch has issued several reports documenting the heightened vulnerability of unauthorized immigrants to rights abuses, such as trafficking, workplace violations, and serious crimes. A report released in May, “Cultivating Fear,” included statements from several unauthorized farmworkers, some in California, who said they were afraid to report rape and sexual assault to local police for fear that the police would report them to immigration authorities. Their fears were fueled by incidents in which family and friends had been reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and deported after minor contact with the police, such as a traffic stop or a telephone call to report domestic violence.
Brown, in his statement explaining his veto, expressed concerns that the Trust (Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) Act would not allow the authorities to detain for immigration purposes people who were charged or convicted of certain serious crimes. Brown said he will work with the state legislature to address these concerns.
Brown should keep his word and work with the broad coalition of civil rights organizations, religious leaders, and police chiefs and sheriffs that supported the bill to enact legislation promptly that restores balance between the goals of community policing and immigration enforcement.
“Effective policing requires law enforcement to build strong relationships with local communities, but that can’t happen if victims are too frightened of being deported to talk to police,” Meng said. “Secure Communities is feeding into a cycle of fear that may be making communities less – not more – secure.”