The Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 54 (SB 54) and the anticipated signing by Governor Brown, marks the end of a long, and at times, contentious debate about immigration and the role of law enforcement in California.
The legislation initially proposed, put to the test the trust that we in local policing must earn every day with the communities we serve.
I strongly opposed SB 54 as initially introduced, because I viewed it as a threat to public safety. I believe that the protections put in place by both the Trust Act and the Truth Act provided safeguards to our communities and focused federal immigration authorities on criminals who prey on our communities.
SB 54, as passed by the legislature, is a very different bill today. Thanks to the leadership of Governor Brown and his staff and members of the State Senate and Assembly, we can move beyond the bill’s early false premise that local law enforcement was going to act as immigration agents. This is fundamentally not true and I, and other law enforcement leaders in California, had the opportunity to make that point.
Introduced legislation is often amended and numerous compromises are made before a bill goes to the Governor and becomes law. That is exactly what happened with SB 54. Governor Brown, as well as key members of the State Senate and Assembly, also engaged the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in a series of conference calls and briefings. A compromise was struck with SB 54’s authors. SB 54 now largely reflects much of what the LASD implemented years ago and the work is well underway.
SB 54, as passed by the Legislature, will now go to the Governor’s desk. SB 54 clearly reflects what is working in Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. While not perfect, SB 54 kept intact our ability to maintain partnerships with federal law enforcement officials who help us in the fight against gangs, drugs and human trafficking. It also retains the controlled access that the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has to our jails. This access will continue to be guided by the strict standards of the existing state laws, the Trust Act of 2014 and the Truth Act of 2016 that pre-date SB 54.
The dialogue around SB 54 afforded me the opportunity to have a series of meaningful conversations with several immigrant advocacy groups, community stakeholders, and California law enforcement partners to bring greater understanding of our Department’s policy and custody operations.
SB 54 was also a catalyst for our own command staff to reaffirm to our deputies our Department’s policy that we do not ask for the immigration status of any person.
Public safety is our mission. This requires that people come forward if they are a crime victim or be willing to come forth as a witness to a crime without fear of being deported. When I say that public trust is our currency, I mean it.
These are challenging times for progressive counties such as Los Angeles to maintain civil dialogue around difficult issues. However, the LASD largely accomplished this mission. I am grateful for the discussion forums provided by local churches, non-profits and the media, many of whom invested in the possibility of shedding more light than heat regarding immigration, which will remain one of the most important issues of our time.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell