Bolder Advocacy

Advocates Push California to Lead On Immigrant Rights

– by Daren Garshelis

With comprehensive immigration reform an uncertainty this year, it’s worth remembering that advocacy to promote immigrant rights isn’t just a federal matter. Recent policy victories in California show how groups working at the local and state levels can also move an immigrant rights agenda. Nonprofits have been using strategies like lobbying, public protest, and research to protect families from separation and help immigrant community members fully participate in American society without discrimination and stigmatization.

Setting a new standard for the nation with the California TRUST Act

Governor Brown’s signing of the TRUST Act—along with several other bills supported by advocates—has led some to proclaim that 2013 is the “year of the immigrant” in California. The landmark legislation will significantly reduce the degree to which California state and local law enforcement officials collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to detain and deport immigrant community members. Nearly 100,000 California residents have been deported through state and local law enforcement collaboration with ICE, oftentimes through the ironically-named Secure Communities (S-Comm) program, which has ripped apart countless families and communities.

Angela Chan, Senior Staff Attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, a co-sponsor of the TRUST Act, explains that, “with Governor Brown signing the TRUST Act, the tide is turning toward disentangling local law enforcement from ICE.” As a result, says Chan, “tens of thousands of families will no longer be torn apart and fearful that any contact with local police can lead to prolonged detention in local jails and then deportation.”

Reshma Shamasunder, Executive Director of the California Immigrant Policy Center (CIPC), another co-sponsor of the TRUST Act, described the wider impact of the new law:

“Soon, immigrant Californians and their family members will have the confidence that minor or unjustified arrests for things like selling food without a permit or having dogs that bark too loudly will not lead to extended and costly detentions in our local jails for deportation purposes. Victims of crimes like domestic violence who are mistakenly arrested will in large part no longer have to fear that a second nightmare—that of deportation proceedings—awaits them. Thousands of aspiring citizens will no longer have to live in fear that these minor arrests will lead to deportation.”

Due process for all in San Francisco

Because the TRUST Act contains some significant carve-outs, and will not protect every California immigrant resident, advocates have been working to oppose law enforcement collaboration with ICE at the local level as well.

The San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee—which boasts broad representation from various community groups, anti-domestic violence organizations, national, state, and local civil and immigrant rights advocates, and immigration attorneys—recently succeeded in propelling some of the strongest protections for immigrant residents in the country through the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

With Mayor Ed Lee’s signing of the Due Process for All Ordinance, few if any San Franciscans will now be detained for ICE by local law enforcement officials.

Supporters celebrate unanimous approval for San Francisco due process ordinance on Oct. 1, 2013 Photo: Alliance for Justice

Supporters celebrate unanimous approval for San Francisco due process ordinance on Oct. 1, 2013 Photo: Alliance for Justice

Community engagement key to victory

The San Francisco victory could not have been possible without the “courage and leadership of the men and women who shared their stories of being held in jail for extra time on an ICE hold,” says Laura Polstein, staff attorney at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN).

Bringing people forward to local hearings who were personally negatively affected by Secure Communities ultimately played a huge part in paving the way for the Board of Supervisors’ 11-0 vote in favor of the ordinance. CARECEN is looking now to “continue to advocate for policies that create a clear, bright line between ICE and local law enforcement, not just in San Francisco, but in the surrounding counties” as well.

“The powerful leadership of undocumented women and queer immigrants in San Francisco” was another critical factor in SFIRDC’s success, according to Cinthya Muñoz, Senior Immigrant Rights Organizer at Causa Justa :: Just Cause (CJJC). CJJC and its army of red-shirted volunteers generated an enormous outpouring of community support at the Board of Supervisors’ hearings. The community’s role in leading Mayor Lee and the Board of Supervisors to unanimous agreement made passage of the San Francisco Due Process Ordinance “a victory for all of us,” said Muñoz.

Jon Rodney, Communications Director for CIPC, explains that the TRUST Act sets “an important minimum standard that will protect thousands of families.” San Francisco, with the Due Process Ordinance, “has gone a step further, and taken a powerful stand for our fundamental principles. In the words of District Attorney George Gascon: ‘we cannot throw out constitutional protections when they are inconvenient.'”

National implications

Advocates and community members are challenging ICE all over the United States. Chicago, Newark, New Orleans, New YorkSanta Clara, Washington, D.C., and the state of Connecticut, have all taken measures to limit or restrict collaboration between local police and ICE. More work is needed across the country.

Says Chan of AAAJ-ALC:

“In light of the record number of deportations under President Obama’s administration and immigration reform ostensibly stalled in Congress, bold leadership is needed at the state level to create safe and inclusive communities. California is leading the way and other states should follow.”

Rodney of CIPC elaborates: “With TRUST across the state and Due Process for All in San Francisco, the message to Washington is unmistakable: the nation’s deportation dragnet has damaged public safety, undermined basic rights, and broken up families.” But, “those very families facing separation have turned the tide. By standing up, speaking out, and fighting back, they’re at the heart of this victory.”

Alliance for Justice is excited to be working closely with many immigrant rights groups in California and across the country who are engaged in advocacy to help make the United States a more hospitable place for newer Americans.