California poised to become ‘sanctuary’ state. But do such policies work?

California is one step closer to calling itself a “sanctuary state.”

On Monday Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and state Senate leader Kevin De León struck a deal on Senate Bill 54, or the California Values Act, making the state potentially the next in the nation to limit state and local law enforcement’s ability to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Only Oregon has a similar law, which it passed in 1987 – though some have called Illinois’ newly signed TRUST Act a sanctuary state measure. New Mexico and Colorado also have comparable proposals pending in their respective legislatures.

The move to take sanctuary policies statewide comes in a year in which the Trump administration has vowed to take action against cities and counties that have adopted measures to shield undocumented immigrants from deportation. More than 500 jurisdictions now have some form of sanctuary policy in the books. The trend has prompted backlash from the Department of Justice and some police departments, which say that such policies make it more difficult for law enforcement to maintain public safety.

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“We believe that it is in everyone’s best interest to have [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] remove dangerous and violent criminals because the people they prey on are disproportionately the immigrant community itself,” says Bill Brown, sheriff of Santa Barbara County and president of the California Sheriffs’ Association. 

One state legislature, Texas, has passed a law making sanctuary policies illegal – and is being sued by its cities in court.  

California lawmakers, meanwhile, are poised to go the other way. Advocates say that sanctuary laws are necessary to shelter immigrant communities from harsh federal actors and build trust between immigrants and the agencies sworn to protect and serve them.  

The debate has grown increasingly shrill as states and cities play a tug-of-war between enacting sanctuary policies and banning them. And yet, what do we actually know about how sanctuary ordinances affect immigrant communities and their relationships with law enforcement?

As loud as the calls for and against these laws have become, hard data on the impact they’ve had at the local level is still scarce. The basis for these laws have for the most part been a combination of research that shows community policing is a more effective way of keeping cities safe than punitive actions…

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