Sacramento — Juana Reyes provides for her family by selling homemade tamales outside a busy Wal-Mart not far from where I live. At least she used to.
Last month Juana was arrested for selling her tamales without a permit and was held in jail for 13 days, while her two children were placed in foster care. Juana was just released, but she now faces deportation back to Mexico, despite having lived in California for 20 years and being the sole caregiver to her children, both U.S. citizens.
I wouldn’t be surprised to read about a story like Juana’s from Arizona or Alabama, where harsh laws direct police to arrest anyone they suspect to be in the country without papers. These laws have been tearing apart families like Juana’s and have immigrant families living in constant fear of police. In California, we may not have an Arizona-style immigration law, but we do have a federal program that’s having a similar effect in immigrant communities.
It’s called “Secure Communities,” but the name couldn’t be more misleading. When Secure Communities was started in 2008, it was supposed to end this sort of indiscriminate rounding up of American immigrants. In the absence of immigration reform, Secure Communities was supposed to prioritize the removal of serious criminals.
However, the program has strayed far from its original intent. Last year, some 400,000 immigrants were detained and deported, and most of them, like Juana, committed no serious crime. In California alone, 75,000 immigrants were deported last year after being arrested for traffic offenses, selling food without permits or other trivial violations.
California can do better. We can focus our law enforcement resources on serious criminals, not on mothers and fathers simply trying to make a better life for their kids. That’s why I support the Trust Act (“Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools” Act or AB 1081).
It’s a bill that would instruct California law enforcement to hold any unauthorized immigrants who are convicted of serious or violent felonies in detention. But, it would mean that mothers, like Juana, who are arrested for trivial violations, or fathers stopped for driving with a broken taillight, won’t be fast-tracked into deportation.
This legislation is common sense and it’s the right thing to do. For one, when immigrants fear contact with the police, they don’t report crimes and we all become less safe. Stories like Juana’s quickly spread through immigrant communities and destroy the trust between police and immigrant communities that is so critical to fighting crime.
Second, with our state facing an ongoing budget deficit, the Trust Act would help counties lower costs by reducing the money they now spend to hold people like Juana in jail, when they would otherwise be released with a fine.
Finally, as a pastor in the Hispanic community, I am constantly confronted with families that have been torn apart when a parent is deported, often times after minor contact with police. The long-term consequences for the children are devastating.
The Trust Act passed both the Assembly and the Senate by comfortable margins. Soon it will go to the governor’s desk, and I hope and expect that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the Trust Act into law.
Enforcement of our nation’s borders is essential, and the continuing failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and provide a road map to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country is shameful. But, in the meantime, Gov. Brown and California can lead the way by rebuilding trust in immigrant communities, curbing wasteful spending and keeping families intact.