© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lawmakers Want To Make California A Sanctuary State


California lawmakers want to make their state a sanctuary for immigrants who are in the country unlawfully. It's not the first state to try. Oregon has had a similar law for decades. Capital Public Radio's Ben Bradford in Sacramento and Oregon Public Broadcasting's Conrad Wilson bring us this report. And Conrad starts us off.

CONRAD WILSON, BYLINE: Since taking office, Trump has signed an executive order giving federal immigration agents more power.

BEN BRADFORD, BYLINE: Advocates for immigrant communities in California say they're scared.

ALEX VAIZ: Sometimes they're afraid to even go out, afraid to even go to the grocery store.

BRADFORD: Alex Vaiz is senior pastor at Vida Church, a small evangelical congregation that worships behind an art gallery in Sacramento.


BRADFORD: A bilingual Christian rock band leads the songs. The parishioners are mostly Latino and many in the country without legal documentation. After reports of immigration arrests at courthouses and near schools in California, Vaiz found Immigration and Customs Enforcement camped out in the church parking lot this spring. Now, neither California nor so-called sanctuary cities can prevent that since ICE is a federal agency. But Vaiz says...

VAIZ: What if they were discouraged in essence by not having the collaboration of local law enforcement in any way? I think if we make it harder for them, it causes and creates more safety to our community.

BRADFORD: And that's pretty much the line from Democratic lawmakers in California as they work to pass a sanctuary state measure. It would restrict local and state law enforcement from working with or even communicating with ICE unless agents come with a warrant.

WILSON: Oregon's law does many of the things that Democrats in California are trying to achieve. Supporters say it's helped separate local police work from federal immigration enforcement. Andrea Williams is the executive director of Causa, a Latino rights organization in Oregon.

ANDREA WILLIAMS: So the federal government - that's up to you to decide how you're going to enforce immigration laws. But we as Oregonians - we're not going to have a say. And we're not going to help you do that.

WILSON: While the California measure's a response to President Trump, the Oregon law passed with bipartisan support 30 years ago to both prevent racial profiling and save the state money on law enforcement. Compared to California, Oregon's law is a lot shorter and less restrictive. For example, it allows local law enforcement to communicate with ICE.

BRADFORD: Now, in California, the debate has landed on public safety. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck says officers have better relationships with the communities they police when they don't enforce immigration law.


CHARLIE BECK: We depend on our communities, particularly our immigrant communities, to cooperate with us not only to keep them safe but to keep all of you safe.

BRADFORD: But a lot of law enforcement opposes the California measure. Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown represents the state's Sheriffs Association.


BILL BROWN: It is in the interest of all of our communities and especially the immigrant community that dangerous offenders who are in this country illegally be deported so that they cannot continue to prey on the innocent victims.

WILSON: Those concerns expressed by Brown played out in Oregon last month. A man who's in the country unlawfully was released from jail. Local officials and ICE disagree on the circumstances of his release. But after he was out, he allegedly assaulted two women in Portland. Oregon's U.S. attorney, Billy Williams, says that's why it's important for local police to be in touch with ICE.

BILLY WILLIAMS: We have two more unnecessary victims of violent crimes because of the overpoliticalization of the entire topic of immigration.

WILSON: The federal government wants the full cooperation of state and local police when it comes to enforcing federal immigration laws.

BRADFORD: But laws like the one California's considering and the one Oregon has on the books are clearly pushing back against that notion.

WILSON: This tension can be resolved in two ways - Congress passing a major immigration reform bill making clear what is and isn't allowed...

BRADFORD: Unlikely.

WILSON: ...Or the courts.

BRADFORD: Already lawsuits are working their way through the court system. They could answer the question about how much sanctuary states can provide undocumented immigrants and how much they must work with federal agents. For NPR News, I'm Ben Bradford in Sacramento.

WILSON: And I'm Conrad Wilson in Portland.


KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.