Here’s What It Will Mean if (and When) California Becomes a Sanctuary State

Those words may not mean what you think they mean

Since before the days of Trump, California has been fighting to protect undocumented immigrants, and the state is about to take another major step forward. On Saturday morning California lawmakers approved a bill that could officially make California a sanctuary state. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs off on it, as he’s suggested he will, it becomes law.

Here’s what that will mean for California’s undocumented immigrants:

  • Law enforcement officials will be prohibited from inquiring into the immigration status of the people they interact with. Which means that undocumented immigrants can call the police without fear of getting deported. Some law enforcement officials favor this policy because it increases the likelihood that people with information about crimes will share that info with the police.
  • Additionally, law enforcement officials cannot be deputized as immigration agents for ICE, so they won’t be able to arrest anyone on civil immigration warrants.
  • Hospitals, public schools, libraries, and courthouses officially will be established as safe zones for undocumented immigrants. The state attorney general has about a year to decide exactly what that looks like.

A few concessions were made in order to get the bill passed, which means that protections aren’t quite as intense as they could have been.

  • State corrections officials will still be allowed to work with ICE, and federal immigration authorities will still be granted access to jails in order to question immigrants.
  • Police and sheriffs must still comply with ICE requests for information and transference of criminals if those people have committed one of 800-ish crimes (mostly felonies) listed in a previous law. Included are registered sex offenders and those who have committed violent felonies—and also those who have been charged will less serious offenses like nonviolent drug crimes.

If passed, the new law would make California the nation’s second official sanctuary state. (Oregon has been one for three decades.) And as for repercussions? Although President Trump has threatened to defund “out of control” California for our tendency to, you know, protect vulnerable immigrants, a federal judge ruled last week that he can’t do that—at least for the time being. That means California can actually take up the mantle of sanctuary state without fear of losing federal grant money.

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