Governor Jerry Brown Acts on Immigration Bills

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new law that will allow hundreds of thousands of young illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and vetoed another that would have restricted sheriffs from helping federal authorities detain undocumented Californians for potential deportation.

The driver’s license measure will allow illegal immigrants to drive legally in California if they qualify for a new federal work permit program. The Obama administration’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) allows illegal immigrants who came to the United States before they were 16, and who are now 30 or younger and meet certain other criteria, to obtain work permits.

“Gov. Brown believes the federal government should pursue comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship,” said Brown spokesman Gil Duran. “President Obama has recognized the unique status of these students, and making them eligible to apply for driver’s licenses is an obvious next step.”
Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles), the measure’s author, had been crusading for such a law since a broader measure he pushed through the Legislature in 2003 prompted a voter backlash. The earlier bill was signed into law by former Gov. Gray Davis, who was ousted from office soon afterward. Before it took effect, lawmakers repealed it.

The assemblyman had wider support for the latest measure, AB 2189, however, with backing from some GOP lawmakers. “I’m proud the governor chose public safety over the politics of the day,” Cedillo said.

The other closely watched immigration bill was known as the Trust Act. It would have prohibited local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal authorities to detain suspected illegal immigrants, unless they are charged with a serious or violent felony.

Some in law enforcement campaigned hard against the measure, AB 1081 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said it conflicted with federal law and vowed to defy it.

The act is aimed at Secure Communities, a federal program that creates a pipeline from local jails to deportation. In participating jurisdictions, the fingerprints of every person arrested and booked into local jails are run through federal databases. Federal authorities flag suspected illegal immigrants, then request that police detain them for 48 hours, providing more time for a transfer to federal custody.

Brown wrote in his veto message that he supported the intent of the Trust Act but it was “fatally flawed,” as it would have protected illegal immigrants involved in such crimes as child abuse, drug trafficking and selling weapons. “I believe it’s unwise to interfere with a sheriff’s discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with these kinds of troubling criminal records,” he said.

Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said in a statement that the governor’s veto “has doomed thousands of immigrants including domestic violence survivors, food vendors, and people who for minor offenses are separated from their loved ones and detained unjustly.”
While this is a mixed day for those who support immigration advocacy for undocumented immigrants, these actions by Gov. Brown will have far reaching effects for many undocumented immigrants in terms of the protection and rights they have. While the positive effect of allowing those granted work authorization under DACA to have a driver’s license seems almost intuitive, the impact of the Trust Act not being passed will also be felt widely by those who end up being detained and are not among the offenders Gov. Brown voiced his concern. Depending on how the Secured Communities program continues, it remains to be seen what kind of impact it will continue to have for undocumented immigrants in California. At least Gov. Brown took one step in the right direction by reaffirming President Obama’s Deferred Action executive order with this bill being passed.