This op-ed originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee on August 23, 2017.
Gov. Jerry Brown has publicly committed to protecting Californians from the Trump agenda. He has said on national television that he is not going to turn our state and local law enforcement over to the federal government to feed its recent obsession with deporting our friends, neighbors and colleagues.
That’s the right thing to say, of course, in a state – indeed a nation – where our prosperity has always depended on immigrants. Now it is time for our governor to prove his words were not just platitudes and to endorse and promise to sign real laws that can make a real difference. Instead, he is hemming and hawing, raising concerns that have little do with reality and, disturbingly, sound Trumpian.
At issue are the Dignity Not Detention Act and the California Values Act, both of which are nearing the end of the legislative line and seem likely to end up on his desk before long. The question is, in what form.
SB 29, the Dignity Not Detention Act, shuts down the pipeline that turns misery into money for private, for-profit prisons. Specifically, the bill would make it nearly impossible for companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group to land no-bid contracts with California cities to detain immigrants.
And it would require California’s immigrant prisons to adhere to federal minimum standards – in many of these facilities, physical, emotional and sexual abuse are common occurrences. This is a basic human rights issue and there is no reason for our governor to do anything but leap at the chance to sign it into law.
SB 54, the California Values Act, addresses the issue of the lawless, mindless rounding up and locking up of immigrants. It does this by declaring the whole state of California a sanctuary in which immigrants and their families are protected from marauding Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. More specifically, it bars state and local law enforcement from spending time or money chasing anyone down solely for the purpose of immigration enforcement.
Law enforcement leaders such as Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart, and others have come out in support of SB 54 because they know it is a public safety measure. These leaders understand that to do their jobs and keep Californians safe, police departments need to be trusted, not feared, by the communities they protect and serve. Indeed, the evidence shows that declaring sanctuary in this way actually would make our state safer.
On the other side stands the for-profit prisons whose motives are obvious and just as obviously irrelevant. They want to make money. This legislation would get in the way of their bottom line, ergo they don’t like it and ergo also, nothing they say has any merit.
The State Sheriffs Association also opposes these bills. Their motives are similarly suspect but they, by virtue of their titles, are less obviously self-interested. They sound rational and so the governor is reacting to them as if they are credible.
They are not. This is a group after all, that endorsed a man once deemed too racist to be a judge to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. I believe most Californians would say it is self-evident: If you believe Jeff Sessions should be our attorney general, you are out of step with California.
More directly on point, their argument that the sanctuary bill would in any way affect the detention of violent or otherwise dangerous people is nonsensical. There is nothing in the sanctuary legislation that would get in the way of law enforcement’s ability to share information about a crime or increase the possibility that a dangerous individual gets “accidentally released” into a community.
It simply says that local and state police will not help curtail the freedom and civil rights of persons solely based on their paperwork. Obfuscations and fear-mongering notwithstanding, the real reason sheriffs are concerned about this bill is the same reason as for-profit prisons might care: Money.
Their budgets are padded by payments made to their jurisdictions to house immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. Fewer immigrants rounded up and incarcerated for no good reason means less money flowing from the federal government to their jurisdictions.
In other words, all the concerns the sheriffs are raising come down to the reality that they are worried about money. And that, fundamentally, is not a good reason to put so much as a single person behind bars.
Brown should see past this ploy and the fearmongering rhetoric that does not match the reality. He should come out loud and proud for legislation that continues California’s leadership of the nation, indeed of the world.
Californians have spoken loudly and clearly about this issue: We protect each other. We stand up for each other. We honor each other, regardless of where we were born. We do not deport each other. Sign the bills.