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What Would It Mean for California to Become a Sanctuary State?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

A California bill making its way through the legislature is stirring up controversy both locally and nationally. The controversy is over the proposed sanctuary state bill, SB54, which would make the entire state of California a sanctuary state for immigrants. While there are already some protections in the state for immigrants from federal immigration enforcement, the new bill seeks to expand those protections.

In short, the bill would require state law enforcement agencies, including police departments, sheriff departments, state prisons, and county jails, to not assist in, or commit resources to, federal immigration enforcement actions, except in very limited scenarios. Not surprisingly, opponents of the bill claim that sanctuaries lead to increased crime, while proponents assert that sanctuaries actually lead to decreased crime and improved criminal justice.

What Is a Sanctuary State?

Although the phrase sanctuary state may make some people think that immigrants will be immune from criminal prosecution, that is far from the truth. Immigrants, like all other citizens, are still subject to state and federal criminal law enforcement. Additionally, immigrants that violate immigration laws can still be investigated, prosecuted, and deported in a sanctuary state. The primary difference is that in sanctuary states and cities, the local law enforcement is not allowed to use state resources to assist federal immigration enforcement in enforcing immigration laws.

The purpose behind enacting sanctuary policies is to ensure that all persons have access to police assistance. An undocumented immigrant in a sanctuary city, or state, can call the police, or serve as a witness, without fear of being turned over to the feds and being deported. Although a state cannot actually prevent the feds from doing their jobs that does not mean state authorities have to assist the feds. Another important aspect of the bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from entering immigration information into law enforcement databases, which the feds have access to.

What Does This Mean for California?

For the state of California, one of the risks involved with passing the statewide sanctuary bill involves federal funding. Traditionally, the federal government has used a state's federal funding as a mechanism to get states to fall in line with federal policies or mandates.

However, California will not be alone if the feds do try to extort action. Other states have sanctuary policies, and countless counties and cities do too.

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