Policy, Social Justice

Here’s what you need to know about California becoming a sanctuary state

If passed, the California Values Act would make California a "de facto sanctuary state" by all accepted definitions.

It looks like California might just become the first sanctuary state in the United States. SB 54, which was introduced in the Senate early December 2016 , includes provisions that would aptly categorize California as such, and immigrant groups are heavily pushing for its approval.

SB 54, also known as the “California Values Act,” would “prevent the use of state and local public resources to aid ICE agents in deportation actions.” This bill comes on the heels of President Trump’s fierce crackdown on immigration in the United States. Senator Kevin De León (D.) of California was the first to introduce the bill, along with fellow California Senator Richard Pan.

So, what’s this bill  do? 

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  • California law enforcement officials (both statewide and local) cannot carry out deportations.
  • ICE would be prohibited from entering public areas such as schools, courthouses, and hospitals, and would require California agencies to update and uphold confidentiality policies. This is an effort to encourage undocumented people to seek out public services as needed in a non-threatening environment.
  • The state would take positive measures to protect undocumented immigrants from federal reach.
  • However, ICE would be able to carry out a deportation if they obtained a judicial warrant.

What’s this whole “sanctuary state” thing about?

California could become a sanctuary state

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Opponents of the bill have complained that it might make California a “de facto sanctuary state”. But will it? That depends on how you define a “sanctuary”.

By the mainstream definition, the California Values Act would, in fact, make California a sanctuary.  “Sanctuary cities” define themselves as places that limit the power of ICE in their jurisdictions by not cooperating with ICE officials. IF SB 54 passed, California would fit that description perfectly.

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ICE would still have all the power of the federal government to terrorize undocumented immigrants. The state of California would not be able to put a stop on deportation raids carried out with a judicial warrant. And with widespread recent ICE raids, many concentrated in California, the very possibility of deportations is frightening to many undocumented immigrants still living in the state.

Also important to note: ANY immigrant can turn away ICE for lacking a judicial warrant. ICE does not have the right to carry out a deportation without one. The “warrant requirement” is not unique to this bill at all.

Do we like this bill or not? 


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In sum – yes. SB 54 doesn’t completely shield undocumented folks from ICE, as a bill like that can’t possibly exist. It would be openly defying federal law if it did. However, this bill is a huge step in protecting immigrants and de-criminalizing their existence.

If passed, the California Values Act would indeed make California a “de facto sanctuary state”, by all accepted definitions. That is an enormous symbolic step, if not also a severe hindrance for ICE in the state with the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the US.

Great, okay. How is this  bill doing now?

It’s doing well. A state senate committee approved it on February 1st.  The political climate in California is looking good overall, with California lawmakers proposing bills with a similar pro-sanctuary sentiments. Let’s bide our time, and hope this thing passes.

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Natalia Marques

Natalia Marques

Editorial Fellow Natalia Marques is a sophomore at Wellesley College, studying Political Science and Chinese. She is passionate about resistance movements, feminism, and Beyonce.

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