In the absence of Congress passing immigration reform legislation and President Barack Obama taking action to stop deportations, advocates are turning to state lawmakers to introduce legislation aimed at rejecting federal programs that have resulted in record-breaking numbers of deportations.
Arizona is the latest state to do that.
On Monday, state Rep. Juan Mendez (D-Tempe) introduced a bill that seeks to limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials. He said his bill “reduces” overreach by immigration officials and helps ensure “that a trip to the grocery store doesn’t turn into a deportation ordeal.”
What’s in the Arizona Trust Act?
HB 2655, which is dubbed the Trust Act, would prohibit the state from entering into 287(g) agreements with the federal government. Such agreements allow local law enforcement agencies to access immigration databases in order to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.
Currently, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has “jail enforcement” 287(g) agreements with four law enforcement agencies in Arizona. The agreements allow the agencies to question people who’ve been arrested on state or local charges.
Mendez’s bill would also require the federal government to pay for the costs of state involvement in its programs, rather than having the state pick up the tab. This includes reimbursing the state for responding to an immigration detainer, which is a request by immigration officials for local law enforcement to maintain custody of a person for up to 48 hours.
Furthermore, the bill seeks to bring transparency to law enforcement by requiring local law enforcement agencies to maintain records on immigration detainers and to make those records available to the public.
Mendez said his bill would help Arizona “recover on a societal level” from the damage caused by SB 1070 and the federal government’s “deportation quota programs.”
He added that it would also help strengthen the trust between local law enforcement and Latinos, many of whom are afraid to call police if they are victims or witnesses of a crime because they fear they’ll be asked about their immigration status.
“We need a reconciliation process to end Arizona’s polarization, to repair our trust and to restore basic rights and values,” he said.
Trust Acts in other places
Similar measures have been approved in several states and municipalities. In September 2011, Cook County in Illinois adopted an ordinance that ended the county’s compliance with ICE immigration detainers.
Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia said the county’s compliance with ICE immigration detainers was costing a “significant” amount of money and was “doing away” with the trust that had been built between immigrants and law enforcement agencies.
Garcia added that ever since the ordinance was enacted more than two years ago, there haven’t been any instances where undocumented immigrants on bail have committed serious felonies.
“What does this mean? It means that we have put public safety at the forefront of what is in the public interest,” he said.
Now, the Illinois General Assembly is looking to enact a statewide legislation similar to the Cook County ordinance and legislation introduced in Arizona. Similar bills are also being proposed in Massachusetts and Maryland. California and Connecticut both passed their own Trust Acts last year.
Arizona Trust Act unlikely to pass
But passing the Trust Act in Arizona won’t be easy. It will likely face opposition from Republicans, who have control of both chambers of the Arizona State Legislator.
Angela Chan, a senior staff attorney at the Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, noted it took California three years to pass it’s own Trust Act. Though she acknowledged that passing Mendez’s bill in Arizona won’t be easy, she urged Arizona lawmakers to pass it in order to change Arizona from being a “notoriously anti-immigrant” state to one that is more welcoming to immigrants.
“I’m here today to urge passage of this bill, because three years is a long time to be enduring what people are enduring in this state,” she said.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, echoed Chan’s call for Arizona lawmakers to pass the Trust Act. He also noted that in the last decade, MALDEF has filed litigation in Arizona, challenging immigration laws, like SB 1070, and the “daily depravations of constitutional rights” by public officials like Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio.
“I know that Arizona has been and can be a different state than the one that we’ve seen over the course of the last decade,” he said, urging state lawmakers to pass the Trust Act.