California bill protecting immigrants nears vote

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) California lawmakers are preparing to vote on a so-called "sanctuary state" bill that would expand protections for people living in the country illegally who come into contact with law enforcement.

The Assembly and Senate are scheduled to vote Friday on the legislation, which would bolster immigrant protections that are already among the toughest in the nation. Their approval would send it to Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support this week after the top Senate leader, the bill's author, agreed to water it down and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to cooperate with immigration officers in many cases.

The legislation is the latest effort by Democratic lawmakers in California, home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization, to create barriers to President Donald Trump's campaign pledge to step up deportation efforts. They've also approved money for legal assistance and college scholarships for people living illegally in the U.S., and made it harder for businesses and government agencies to disclose people's immigration status.

California lawmakers are debating the measure as the U.S. Congress considers offering legal status to young immigrants whose parents brought them into the country illegally or overstayed their visas.

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Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, introduced SB54 shortly after Trump's election to cut off most interactions between federal immigration agents and local police and sheriff's officers. Following sharp dissent from law enforcement officials and Brown's intervention, it was scaled back significantly.

The final version prohibits law enforcement officials from asking about a person's immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement efforts. It also prohibits law enforcement officials from being deputized as immigration agents or arresting people on civil immigration warrants.

Police and sheriff's officials, including jail officers, will still be able to work with federal immigration authorities if a person has been convicted of one of some 800 crimes, mostly felonies and misdemeanors that can be charged as felonies. But they'll be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offenses.

Immigration advocates generally applauded the latest version, even with de Leon's concessions. For them, the bill delivers a rare victory during Trump's presidency, preserving some protections for people in the country illegally and adding others.

California police chiefs dropped their opposition but sheriffs, who run jails where the biggest impacts will be felt, remain opposed.

The changes did not mollify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Thomas Homan, who said the bill will deliberately destruct immigration laws and shelter criminals.

"If California politicians pass this bill, they will be prioritizing politics over the safety and security of their constituents," Homan said in a statement this week.