New Sanctuary State legislation Provides Protections For Violent Felons, Curtails Law Enforcement Operations

by Chris Catren, Vice President of the California Police Chiefs Association

California has some of the strongest Sanctuary State laws in the nation. These laws, in actuality, do not provide any real sanctuary from immigration because those are federal policies our state officials cannot change. Instead, these statutes control when our local law enforcement can work with immigration authorities. California’s existing sanctuary state laws shield low-level offenders. Currently, new legislation by Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo seeks to extend our sanctuary state protections to those convicted of any crime – including sex crimes and violent felonies like murder, rape, torture, kidnapping, and more. Additionally, the measure, Assembly Bill 937, removes an important exemption our police chiefs were given in previous sanctuary state legislation to allow our officers to partner with federal law enforcement agencies on anti-human trafficking and terrorist task forces.

We all support and recognize the significant contributions of immigrants in California and our shared desire to protect them, but this bill goes too far and endangers all of our communities.

In 2017, the state passed Senate Bill 54 by current LA Councilmember and former Pro tempore of the Senate, Kevin de León. Deemed the Sanctuary State Act, SB 54 restricted circumstances when local law enforcement can participate in investigations with immigration authorities. During that year, the California Police Chiefs Association negotiated amendments with de León and former Governor Jerry Brown to allow our agencies to work in specific types of joint-federal task forces – the types of operations that are necessary to combat international human trafficking and terrorists’ threats. 

The exemption in SB 54 allows for partnership with local authorities so long as the task force’s purpose is not immigration enforcement, and the local participation is unrelated to immigration enforcement. In his closing remarks on the Senate Floor for SB 54, de León stated firmly, “for those individuals who commit serious and violent felonies, as well as the list of other crimes, we don’t want you in the country.”

AB 937 contradicts the statement of de León, undoes the task force exemption, and therefore jeopardizes some of the most critical operations ongoing in California.

The various joint-task forces currently underway in California focus on international crimes – human trafficking, terrorism, cybercrimes, and drug trafficking – and include representatives from local police departments, state agencies, and federal law enforcement agencies like Immigration, Homeland Security, and the FBI. These partnerships are necessary because often the suspects, and major crimes they commit, cross-state and national borders. Frequently, the subjects of these major investigations have civil, and potentially criminal, immigration violations, which get inextricably linked to broader criminal cases.

AB 937 obstructs these operations in several ways. The bill prohibits our state and local agencies from assisting in any and all efforts to investigate crimes involving immigration violations. The bill then states that this prohibition – even for human trafficking, rape, and all violent felonies – applies notwithstanding any contrary law. In that section, AB 937 specifically cites the existing task force exemption.

Under these restrictions, we could not participate in joint task forces involving undocumented individuals because any action we took would necessarily assist in the underlying immigration violation in these cases – even though the primary focus may be human trafficking or terrorism. The fluid and collaborative nature of the investigations do not allow for a workaround from AB 937’s restrictive language. Despite this, proponents continue to claim the bill does not impact our task forces. This fails to recognize the inner workings of major international investigations.

Arguments in favor of AB 937 also center around second chances for those who have served time in prison. However, this argument ignores persistently high recidivism rates for convicted felons. In 2019, the Public Policy Institute of California released a report on recidivism that found rearrests rates for felons remain above 60%, with felony rearrests rates over 50%. The homicide rate jumped 31% last year, the largest year-to-year increase in decades. Now is not a time to further jeopardize public safety.

Ultimately, AB 937 will result in more victims of violent crimes. We would also likely have problems maintaining our participation within our regional intelligence centers, set up after 9/11 to share intel on potential terrorist threats in California. With added turmoil in the Middle East, there are real risks we all need to consider. 

CPCA worked collaboratively through these concerns in SB 54, but unfortunately, we are now facing even more extreme consequences under AB 937. With only two weeks left in the 2021 Legislative Session, we hope these significant concerns are addressed before AB 937 potentially becomes law.


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