California Values Act: It’s About More than Dollars and Cents

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Image by ACLU Northern California

By Angélica Salceda

While our immigrant communities are living in fear, wondering if immigration agents will come knocking on their doors or if a simple traffic stop might lead to their deportation, Fresno City Council Member Steve Brandau tried to get Fresno to turn its back on them and our values of inclusion and human dignity by introducing a resolution in opposition to SB 54, the California Values Act.

Immigrants are part of California’s heart and soul. They are cherished members of our community, neighborhoods, classrooms, and economy. In the Central Valley, 186,000 U.S. citizen children have an undocumented parent. These undocumented members of our community also represent 11 percent of the Valley’s workforce.

Make no mistake, any policy targeting immigrants – or turning its back on immigrants – will undoubtedly have swift and significant negative impacts on our communities, neighborhoods, classrooms, and economy.

That is one of the many reasons why the Fresno City Council should stand on the right side of history.

The bill was introduced in Sacramento to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians by ensuring that state and local resources are not used to fuel mass deportations, separate families, or terrorize our communities.

The federal government wants to use local law enforcement as “force multipliers” of immigration agents, relying heavily on police to carry out mass deportations. We’ve been down this road before and we know how badly this will end.

From 2009-2015, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) controversial and failed S-Comm program had local law enforcement detain and transfer people to ICE. This program operated in California as an indiscriminate mass deportation program that cost the state’s taxpayers $65 million annually. California law enforcement was responsible for 30 percent of all deportations nationwide under this program.  President Trump has now reactivated S-Comm. Nearly half of the people deported under the program had no criminal history whatsoever.

Currently, counties like Fresno allow ICE to interview people in custody for immigration purposes, review logs, and search jail computers to gather addresses to conduct home raids. This involvement has invoked widespread fear in Fresno’s immigrant communities for years now.

We also know that aggressive federal immigration enforcement strategies are continuing to increase with the new administration. ICE arrests in courthouses and outside of schools are an alarming new trend that California state and local governments should take absolutely no part in.

What we need is to disentangle California from the business of mass deportations and ensure that immigrants are able to continue working, providing for their families, and raising their children.

The California Values Act would do this by ensuring state and local law enforcement agencies and school police do not engage in immigration enforcement. The bill would also make sure that no state or local resources will be used to investigate, detain, report, assist, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes, and that no police officer can be deputized as a federal immigration agent.

Sadly, Council Member Brandau tried to place a resolution against the bill on the City Council’s agenda based on a thinly veiled excuse that the bill would result in loss of federal funding dollars. In reality, Brandau’s resolution was an excuse to give the Trump administration a free pass to terrorize our immigrant communities. But thanks to community members and advocates who pushed against this tactic, the city council removed the resolution from the March 23, 2017, agenda.

We know that Brandau based his argument on a threat that Trump has no legal authority to actually carry out. This argument failed on March 23 and the City Council shouldn’t fall for this misrepresentation again.

Fresno deserves better.

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Angélica Salceda is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California’s Fresno office.