Firing Back at Trump’s War on Immigrants, California Becomes First ‘Sanctuary State’
Assemblyman David Chiu, who authored bills that protect undocumented immigrants at home and at work, says attacks on immigrants undermine public safety
JAISAL NOOR: This is the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor. Defying the deportation machine in the age of Trump. California has become the first so-called sanctuary state with Governor Jerry Brown signing a measure that would block cooperation between local and state law enforcement and federal authorities among almost a dozen other measures that would protect the State’s undocumented immigrants. That’s despite threats from Attorney General Jeff Sessions to cut funding from jurisdictions that defy calls to deport more undocumented immigrants.
In a moment, we’ll be joined by California Assemblyman, David Chiu, but first we take a look at what sanctuary policies are. Here’s that piece:
DONALD TRUMP: Block funding for sanctuary cities. We block the funding. No more funding.
JAISAL NOOR: Despite his threats to cut the federal funding, Donald Trump’s election has prompted major cities from New York to California to declare they will oppose him.
SPEAKER: To be clear about what Chicago is, it always will be a sanctuary city.
JAISAL NOOR: The sanctuary movement has its roots in the 1980’s with churches offering shelter to Latin American refugees fleeing the slaughter left in the wake of US-backed death squads there. Today hundreds of cities and counties around the country offer some type of sanctuary policy, which varies greatly by jurisdiction, but the term itself can be misleading.
SPEAKER: From the right, the use of the term suggests that undocumented immigrants congregate in these cities and are able to commit all sorts of crimes and basically, the cities are law enforcement-free zones, which is certainly not the case.
JAISAL NOOR: Because there’s only about 5,000 federal immigration officers nationwide, authorities rely heavily on local authorities to help with deportations. Some of the strongest sanctuary policies exist in cities like Chicago and the encompassing Cook County which prevents local authorities from asking for immigration status, prevents the sharing of immigration status with federal authorities, and refuses to hold immigrants without a warrant. Courts of ruled these policies, known as ICE detainers are unconstitutional and violate the 4th Amendment.
On Monday, the nation’s capital joins cities like Chicago, New York, and L.A. by offering legal representation to undocumented immigrants facing deportation, something not guaranteed in immigration courts like it is under normal legal proceedings. Last year, grassroots groups and the ACLU helped defeat a measure aimed at banning funding for sanctuary cities in Florida.
SPEAKER: The bill was ultimately defeated. We think that there’s some real lessons here for folks in other states to learn as well. That is, speak to law enforcement. The Florida Sheriff’s Association opposes ICE detainers. Even the Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged that there are serious, serious constitutional issues with these unconstitutional holds. When law enforcement is deciding how to allocate resources, they should be putting a priority on things that work and public safety.
JAISAL NOOR: As far as Trump’s threats to cut funding to sanctuary cities, that would be likely challenged in court, experts tell us.
SPEAKER: I think it will inevitably end up in litigation. There’s a lot of legal constraints on what the federal government can and can’t do to pressure states and localities to do what they want. It’s really important to understand, sanctuary cities are not illegal policies. They’re not in defiance of federal law. They’re in fact, fully in line with our federal system that says that states and localities get to govern their own local priorities and resources. Although the federal government can offer incentives to localities to do what they want, they can’t coerce. I think it’ll be a long time before we have a clear answer to this question because there’s a lot to sort out. The Trump administration can’t do everything that it says it’s going to do.
JAISAL NOOR: Joined by California Assemblyman David Chiu who represents the eastern half of San Francisco. Thank you so much for joining us.
DAVID CHIU: Thanks for having me on.
JAISAL NOOR: Last week Governor Jerry Brown signed a slew of measures that would protect some 2.3 million undocumented immigrants in California. California’s home to the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the country. The acting director of ICE said his agency would have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and work sites, so they’re basically threatening to target California with whole neighborhood-wide sweeps in response to this measure. Let’s start off by getting your response to this.
DAVID CHIU: Donald Trump since the earliest days of his campaign declared war on our diverse immigrant communities. He’s moved forward with several unconstitutional executive orders. He has proposed 10,000 new ICE agents to deport our family members. As a son of immigrants and living in a state that is one of the most diverse states in our union, we can’t support that. We have to support the American premise, the dream that immigrants could come here and succeed. Unfortunately, Donald Trump doesn’t believe that.
JAISAL NOOR: Now, people on the right, like our Attorney General Jeff Sessions say, “Such policies, they threaten public safety.” They argue that with these policies, criminals are going to have a free rein. They’re going to be able to terrorize communities. There was a famous case in California where an undocumented immigrant was accused of killing somebody. They often point to that case from the ’90’s. What’s your response to that? Do any of these bills, almost a dozen passed last week. Do they protect people that have committed crimes?
DAVID CHIU: I can’t disagree more with the perspective of Donald Trump and his cronies around public safety. In fact, sanctuary policies make our community safer. I speak as a former criminal prosecutor who knows that if immigrant victims and witnesses of crime don’t feel comfortable cooperating with local law enforcement officers and sharing what they know about crime, we can’t keep our communities safe. In fact, we’ve seen since Donald Trump was elected in the largest city in California, which is Los Angeles, we’ve seen Latino immigrants report 25% less sexual assault cases, 10% less domestic violence cases because of this fear that somehow local cops, local law enforcement agents, will become deputized as arms of the out-of-control deportation machine that Donald Trump has directed his ICE agents to engage in. From our perspective, these policies, to ensure that local law enforcement are doing the type of work that they’re supposed to be doing, not carrying out the deportation efforts of Donald Trump, that that’s what we’re talking about.
I will also say that the laws that we passed ensure that if you are an immigrant who has committed a violent or serious felony, these sanctuary policies are not going to protect you. I could not disagree more with how the laws of California have been portrayed by a Trump administration that has, frankly, lied about many things including what we are trying to do to protect our residents and to keep our families safe.
JAISAL NOOR: That fear you described is having an impact right now because in the regions of Northern California where we’ve seen these record wildfires, some 31 people have been killed, hundreds are still missing, there’s reports that undocumented immigrants are afraid to go to shelters, to seek help from authorities because they’re afraid that they might get deported. Can you respond to that?
DAVID CHIU: Absolutely. The rumors of ICE agents sweeping our state are based in reality. In recent weeks, there have been hundreds of arrests of immigrants around the state of California. Unfortunately, during this horrific set of fire disasters, we’ve heard those same rumors. It is not helping our ability to keep our community safe.
JAISAL NOOR: I wanted to ask you about one of the measures you sponsored that was passed last week, the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act. Talk about the role that landlords have played in, you could say, terrorizing communities, terrorizing undocumented immigrants that are renting from them by threatening them with deportation if they report unsafe conditions and so on. Can you talk about what this bill seeks to address?
DAVID CHIU: Ever since Donald Trump was elected last November, we have been hearing stories around the state of California about immigrants who have been victimized by their landlords simply because of their immigration status. Immigrant tenants who hear from their landlord that they’re about to be evicted, to have their rents significantly increased, or are told that their water heater’s not going to get fixed. When they ask why, the landlord says, “Because you’re an immigrant, I can call ICE. I can do what I want. Deal with it.”
This is not true for all landlords, but we do know that there have been certain unscrupulous landlords around California in every part of the state who’ve engaged in this type of behavior. Our Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, which was just signed by Governor Brown, would make the immigration status of a tenant irrelevant. A landlord could still enforce a landlord-tenant agreement, but they can’t bring immigration status into that conversation. They can’t threaten to call ICE if a tenant is not doing what they don’t want.
JAISAL NOOR: There’s another bill you co-sponsored which protects workers from suffering raids during, at their workplace. We know there’s been a long history of that in California. Talk about that measure, as well.
DAVID CHIU: It’s actually a bill that I authored. The bill is our Immigrant Worker Protection Act. It simply would require ICE agents, Donald Trump’s deportation forces to abide by the United States constitution. We are anticipating, because Donald Trump has proposed 10,000 new immigration agents, they have threatened as recently as last week new worksite raids, which are potentially violent, extremely disruptive to our workplace. Imagine, we’ve heard many stories of children who are concerned that their parents are not going to come home from work because of a potential work site raid, from immigrants who worry if their husband or wife are going to come back that evening.
Our bill is very simple. It simply requires our employers to ask an ICE agent, if they show up for a workplace raid, for a judicial warrants or a subpoena if they’re looking for confidential employee information. This is what is already required under the constitution, required under federal law, but given that we’ve already seen the Trump administration routinely violate what is required under the constitution, we believe it was important for us to put this law in place to ensure that some of the hardest work in our state, some of the lowest paid work that is down by our immigrant communities are not disrupted.
JAISAL NOOR: Finally, I wanted to ask you about the policies the Democrats have pursued over the last several years because we know that, it was under President Obama that we achieved record deportations and expanded the machine, this deportation machine, that was expanded under the George Bush administration as well. Do you think that it’s time for Democrats on a national level to begin to pursue different policies, as well?
DAVID CHIU: Well, a few things I’ll say is, certainly deportations continued and expanded under President Obama. That was not something that many of us in California supported or wanted to see happen. That being said, under Donald Trump those numbers have skyrocketed well beyond anything we ever saw in the previous eight years. In California, like the rest of our country, our state, the success of our state has been build on the backs of immigrants. We are the sixth largest economy in the world in large part because of the work of millions of immigrants, immigrant entrepreneurs, immigrants working in our restaurants, in our fields, at our construction sites, immigrants who bring so much to our economy and are part of the richness of the fabric of our communities.
The idea that Donald Trump wants to force our local police officers to be part of his out-of-control deportation machine would not only rip apart our families but it would absolutely undermine and weaken our economy. This is why it’s important for many of us who are progressive lawmakers in California to think about, how do we protect our family members? How do we protect our neighbors? How do we protect the myriad of workers that are doing some of the hardest work in America?
JAISAL NOOR: Well, the numbers I’ve seen, the latest numbers according to the Washington Post actually show that deportations are down so far but arrests are up. The reason for that is because there’s been a log jam in the immigration courts. Regardless, Trump has definitely had a big impact on immigrant communities.
David Chiu, thank you so much for joining us.
DAVID CHIU: Thank you.
JAISAL NOOR: Thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.