By Nina Randazzo

Image Source: Nicki Padar at The California Aggie

In October 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 54 into law. This law established a state-wide sanctuary policy. However, many Californians, including those directly affected by this bill because of their immigration status, may be confused about what exactly this sanctuary policy entails. We want to make sure you know your rights, and we also want you to know where this sanctuary policy falls short in terms of legal protections for immigrants.

The Basics

This law makes several important strides in protecting immigrants, breaking with previous laws that put immigrant communities at greater risk. Most generally, the law now prohibits state or local law enforcement from using their resources or employees to aid in ICE raids, either by directly arresting immigrants on the basis of their immigration status or by actively helping ICE gather information. Exceptions are made only for undocumented persons who have already been convicted of certain violent or otherwise serious felonies.

How this protects immigrants

Local or state law enforcement are now prohibited from questioning anyone regarding their immigration status or otherwise investigating people’s immigration status. They may not assist in ICE raids, actions which they were free to engage in previously. They are also prohibited from sharing private personal information such as people’s addresses with immigration authorities. These provisions are meant to limit the amount of information that ICE receives that helps the agency target immigrants, and legislators also hope that the law will help build trust between immigrants and law enforcement and limit abuse of power by law enforcement officers.

More specifically, the law provides a much-needed break from previous policy regarding detainment. Previously, if a person was already in jail, law enforcement could hold that person in jail past their legal release date at the request of ICE to give ICE officers time to arrive at the jail to transfer the jailed person directly to an immigration detention facility. Such “detainer” requests are especially important to fight because, as reported by USA Today, ICE says that they have increased such requests by 75% in the past year. Human rights groups have pointed out the unconstitutional and abusive nature of this practice. Under the new law, local law enforcement is prohibited from using their personnel and facilities to detain anyone for immigration enforcement reasons, so these detainers are no longer possible. Text from the law specifically prohibits these detainers except under the exceptions mentioned above, and in addition, such detainment would also violate the provision that law enforcement not use its resources to aid immigration enforcement.

Furthermore, the state Attorney General must publish guidelines to officially limit immigration enforcement assistance as much as possible by schools, hospitals, and other institutions by October 1, 2018. Hopefully, this will allow immigrants to safely interact with and benefit from such institutions without fear.

Related: NY Daily News reports that courthouse arrests by ICE are up 900% in New York state:

This law also puts into place several more specific protections. For example, previous law stated that law enforcement must use their resources to provide information to ICE in certain circumstances, such as if they had any reason to believe that a person arrested on certain drug charges was not a citizen of the United States. This law repeals that provision.


Unfortunately, this law does not completely protect immigrants in California. ICE is still active in the state and is free to conduct raids and detain immigrants. ICE may also do its own investigations to track and target immigrants, including accessing the information of immigrants in government records and sending officers into state prisons for investigations.

Provisions in the law also allow law enforcement to respond to ICE requests for information regarding the release date of a person from jail or prison in certain circumstances or regarding a person’s criminal history. As the LA Times reports, offenses that do not protect immigrants in criminal custody from being transferred to ICE include “all serious and violent crimes, registered sex and arson offenses, domestic violence charges and other felonies. They also cover many nonviolent offenses and “wobblers” — crimes that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor. But SB 54 did narrow the list: All seven drug and theft crimes reduced to misdemeanors under Proposition 47, which voters approved in 2014, would no longer be among those crimes.”

In addition, ICE officials have warned that they are ramping up neighborhood and workplace raids in the wake of this bill becoming law.

The Takeaway

This law is an important step towards building trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, limiting the ways in which law enforcement may unconstitutionally detain and interrogate people or otherwise abuse their power, and hopefully decreasing the effectiveness of ICE in monitoring and terrorizing immigrant communities. However, ICE continues to track, detain, and abuse immigrants. Efforts such as rapid response networks, activism, and support for organizations that are legally challenging ICE remain imperative.

Nina Randazzo is a Ph.D. student in Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences at Stanford.

“Resources to Prepare for Raids and Other Immigration Enforcement Actions” from the Immigrant Legal Resource Center:

Know Your Rights by Undocumedia:

Find more resources On Raids and Policing in IMM Print’s #ImmigrationDetentionSyllabus