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Column | Threats of deportation provide a pivotal moment for the California justice system

Recent ICE raids and tightening immigration restrictions have raised concern in immigrant communities around the nation. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Recent ICE raids and tightening immigration restrictions have raised concern in immigrant communities around the nation. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Though California lawmakers do not wield the instantaneous power of executive action, the state assembly is moving steadily to secure immigrant rights in the face of mounting federal hostility.

The new presidential administration is gearing up to fulfill a campaign promise of mass deportation, the logistics of which are still unclear. A number of immigration raids have been conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) throughout California in the past month.

These clashing federal and local policies have indefinitely stuck local law enforcement between a rock and a hard place, with oppositional demands coming from each side. Their role could determine the efficacy of the presidential administration’s developing immigration policy, in the same way local authorities helped the federal government during the War on Drugs.

Several bills passed through a California State Senate committee in late January, meant to protect immigrants from deportation, including one that limits the power of local law enforcement to aid federal immigration authorities. Critics of the bill, however, believe it may impede enforcement of the law.

Republican Senator Jeff Stone said he feared the bill would essentially turn California into a “de facto sanctuary state” during the hearings. This bill might be interpreted by its opponents as preventing local law enforcement officials from doing their jobs. Its advocates think it relieves officials of the burden of complicity in a xenophobic policy.  The proposed legislation would have stopped Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern from sharing the release dates of hundreds of individuals in jail with ICE, most of whom were convicted of misdemeanors.

Other law enforcement in the Bay Area has been more resistant, but that doesn’t necessarily stop ICE officials from using other means. The immigration agency conducted secret raids during their investigation of a gang, according to Santa Cruz Police Chief Kevin Vogel, detaining individuals who have no criminal record or ties to gangs.

Other California lawmakers have struggled over the past weeks of governmental tumult, like Senator Dianne Feinstein, who received harsh criticism for not attending a town hall meeting on immigration policy on Thursday, Feb. 23.  An empty chair town hall meeting was held to at least allow discussion between members of the community.

This moment demands increased awareness and more open communication between representatives and their constituents. Though the process of mass deportation has begun, now is the opportunity to prevent federal abuse of power by passing legislation, and by refusing to be complicit in fascist policies. But that resistance needs to happen now, before federal authorities get their footing.