The Trust Act is California’s response to tough laws in states like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia that restrict the rights of those in the United States illegally and encourage local officers to check the immigration status of people stopped for minor infractions. With national comprehensive immigration reform stalled in Congress, the California law marks the boldest move yet by a state to restrict the reach of federal agencies to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Now other states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, have either begun or are considering legislative action on versions of the Trust Act.
In the absence of federal action on immigration, many states, like California, are taking an increasingly active role in shaping immigration policies. In the first half of this year, 43 states and the District of Columbia enacted 146 laws and 231 resolutions related to immigration, touching on issues of work, health, education, law enforcement and voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures Immigrant Policy Project. The number of state immigration-related laws passed in the first six months of 2013 exceeds the number of such measures enacted for all of last year.
“As long as the federal government goes without passing common-sense immigration reform, we’re going to see more and more action at the state and local level,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, based in Washington, D.C. Though his organization generally supports the Trust Act, he said it reveals the necessity of nationwide action on immigration.
“We can’t have 50 different sets of immigration laws. We really need the federal government to act.”
Not all states have followed California’s direction in expanding immigrant rights.
After Arizona passed SB 1070, which encouraged local law enforcement to check people’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” they are in the U.S. illegally, Georgia passed a similar bill, which, like SB 1070, was challenged by civil rights groups that said it led to racial profiling. This year Georgia’s legislature passed another law, SB 160, which prevents undocumented people from obtaining public housing, driver’s licenses and state grants and loans.
Immigrant-rights advocates in Georgia say they are emboldened by California’s Trust Act.
“I think it’s really significant and it’s a really positive development both in California and in other places around the country where state and local officials have stood up to ICE and have said our resources are not to be used for immigration enforcement,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia. “I do hope it will have an impact in Georgia.”
In California many immigrant-rights advocates still cite comprehensive immigration reform as their eventual goal. For now, many California residents, including Maria Palencia, are looking forward to Jan. 1, when the Trust Act goes into effect.
“My father is the one who drives us to college,” said Palencia, a 26-year-old undocumented student at UCLA. “He’s not going to have to fear driving us. He’s not going to have to fear driving to work.”
“It just gives the community an exhale that it desperately needs.”