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California’s TRUST Act Would Limit Deportations

The Obama administration has emphasized deportation of undocumented immigrants who are convicted of crimes with the Secure Communities program. In the years the program has been in place, though, many have voiced criticism of how the federal government enforces the program’s regulations. A bill in the California Legislature called the TRUST Act would limit California state authorities’ participation in the Secure Communities program.

The Secure Communities Program

The Secure Communities program began in 2008, and it requires police to submit the fingerprints of everyone they book into local jails to the Department of Homeland Security. Agents at Homeland Security then check the fingerprints against a database of immigrant fingerprints to identify people who may be in the U.S. illegally. They also look for past criminal convictions. If these red flags are found, Homeland Security issues a notice to local authorities asking them to detain those who are undocumented so federal officials can take them into custody.

Critics of the program allege that it has done more harm than good. Federal agents have ended up deporting mostly those with misdemeanor convictions, rather than more serious criminals the program was intended to target. California has had about 75,000 deportations as a result of Secure Communities — the most in the U.S. Of those deported, about 70 percent had not committed a crime or had only low-level offenses on their records.

Additionally, immigrant communities are increasingly reluctant to cooperate with the police for any reason, for fear that mere interaction with law enforcement could lead to deportation.

TRUST Act Changes

The Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools, or TRUST, Act would change how California authorities participate in Secure Communities. The bill would allow police to detain only those undocumented immigrants with serious or violent felony convictions.

The California Senate approved the bill. An Assembly committee then approved the bill, and many expect it to pass when the measure goes to a floor vote in August 2012.

Seek Legal Counsel

Immigration law in the U.S. can be complex and enforcement of the laws seems to be constantly in flux. If you have immigration questions, talk to a qualified immigration attorney who can discuss your situation with you.