A Question of Trust
By Alex Distefano
Last month, immigrant rights advocates faced a setback, when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld part of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB 1070, which says that police have a legal right to inquire about the legal status of anyone they stop.
Here in California, a new law—said to strike a blow at racial profiling—passed by the state Senate is being dubbed the “Anti-Arizona” bill. The Trust Act forbids local police officers from sending individuals they stop to immigration officials for deportation unless that person is a convicted criminal or has a violent criminal background.
The Trust Act will put a limit on the collaboration between local police departments, and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Immigrant Resource Center, a nonprofit community organization that provides immigration and legal assistance in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
Among other things, Amaya explains, this legislation brings an end to the federal government’s Secure Communities program.
“Under this system for the past seven or eight years, people who were stopped under the officer’s discretion were detained then, at [the officer’s] discretion, sent to immigration processing centers and eventually deported,” he tells the Weekly. “Now, in some of these cases, those deported were criminals, but in most cases they were not, and ICE’s own data shows that.”
Amaya says that about 198,000 people nationwide have been deported under Secure Communities, since 2008. “From those, around 80,000 deportations, have come from our state alone, and a good portion of those are from Riverside and San Bernardino counties,” he adds. “Seventy percent of those deported did not commit a crime or were guilty of a low-level offense.”
The Trust Act is supported by immigrant rights groups as well as a small number of police chiefs and mayors throughout the state.
“Today’s vote signals to the nation that California cannot afford to be another Arizona,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who wrote the law, said in a written statement.
Despite what critics say—that the Trust Act will hamstring local officers’ abilities to enforce the law—Amaya says proponents of the new law are not in favor of criminals remaining at large.
“I would hope that we could agree that all criminals who are immigrants should be dealt with and punished, whether that means prison or deportation,” he says. “We feel that criminals should be punished no matter their legal status.”
But many immigrants in the Inland Empire, motivated by fear, will still hesitate to call the police over crimes they witness because they fear being deported or sent to ICE if they cannot provide a proper ID.
“It’s as if our local police officers are now de facto immigration officers, they engage in immigration enforcement,” Amaya says. “We actually document many cases, from a hotline we set up, and people actually call to report being racially profiled by police all throughout San Bernardino and Riverside counties. We have filed many complaints.”
Of those that are deported, too many have no criminal background whatsoever or are guilty of relatively minor offenses, Amaya says.
“Many of these people are hardworking blue-collar people with families,” he says. These people are at the poverty level, barely struggling to get by in our community; [they] have no resources or money and end up getting deported if they get stopped by the police, and it causes separation of families—the children are U.S. citizens many times.”
With the country a few months away from a crucial presidential election, Amaya is in hopes that legislation like the Trust Act will prompt politicians—such as Republicans who are typically secure-our-borders, immigration hardliners—to reexamine things.
“The Republicans need to know that criminalizing immigration, is not working,” Amaya says. “I think it’s time for this country to finally get a comprehensive immigration reform plan.”