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State immigration law would limit Secure Communities program

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The national debate on immigration continues to evolve. Only weeks after the Supreme Court's landmark ruling that eviscerated much of Arizona's immigration law, a neighboring state has addressed the issue of how law enforcement must deal with potential illegal immigrants. But whereas Arizona's law attempted to expose illegal immigrants to a more searching inquiry, California is considering legislation that would provide more protection to those who are in the country without documentation.

On more than one occasion, we have posted on Washington's Secure Communities program, under which the Federal Bureau of Investigation sends fingerprints of arrestees to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration agents then use that information to check the legal status of those who have been taken into custody. California's proposed law is an attempt to dull the effect of that law within the state's boundaries.

The law, which is named the Trust Act, is interpreted as a backlash against Secure Communities and Arizona's immigration law. Under the measure, which is expected to become law barring a gubernatorial veto, police would be unable to keep immigrants in custody pending deportation proceedings unless they have convictions for serious or violent felonies on their record.

According to data on Secure Communities in the state, only about 30 percent of those deported under the program had serious or violent felonies on their records. Aided by Secure Communities, last year ICE deported approximately 400,000 immigrants nationwide.

While a few states have chosen to follow Arizona's path on this issue, California for the moment appears to have found a like-minded ally in Washington, D.C., which is also trying to shackle the powers of the program. Other states may also join the fray, and it will be interesting to see how such legislation affects the Secure Communities program in particular as well as the broader debate on immigration.

Source: Reuters, "California Senate passes 'anti-Arizona' immigration bill," Mary Slosson and Tim Gaynor, July 6, 2012.

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