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Disagreement sinks bill to provide haven for immigrants

SB 901 would have given sanctuary to illegal immigrants who came to California before 2008. But a Latino legal group opposed a provision requiring undocumented people to register with the state.

September 09, 2012|By Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times
  • Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, center, co-sponsored the bill to offer sanctuary for some illegal immigrants in the state.
Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, center, co-sponsored the bill to offer sanctuary… (Rich Pedroncelli, Associated…)

SACRAMENTO — A difference of opinion among immigrant-rights groups appears to have contributed to the demise of legislation to provide a haven in California for people who came to the country illegally but have otherwise obeyed the law.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes (D-Sylmar) introduced a bill that would have given sanctuary to many immigrants who came to California illegally before 2008. It was supported by the Central American Resource Center, Hermandad Mexicana and other organizations but never received a final vote as the Legislature ended its session Aug. 31.

The bill ran aground on objections from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which disliked a provision requiring undocumented immigrants to register with the state Department of Justice, officials said.

"We met with MALDEF several times about SB 901 where they expressed concerns over privacy issues related to the legislation," said Ben Golombek, a spokesman for Fuentes. He said legislators asked the group to provide amendments to address those issues.

"Unfortunately, we never received anything from them," Golombek said. "It's disappointing that instead of taking an opportunity to constructively participate in the process and address their concerns, they chose to lobby against the bill."

Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF's president and general counsel, said that his group was neutral on the bill but that he told Fuentes' office that having the state register, track and do background checks on immigrants raised questions of constitutionality. "That is a federal responsibility," Saenz said.

He said he told Fuentes' staff that the problem could be fixed by removing the registration requirement.

There appears to have been another complication as well. The Legislature had passed a separate bill, known as the Trust Act, that would bar local authorities from complying with federal detention requests against suspected illegal immigrants except when one has been charged with a serious or violent crime.

Saenz said the Trust Act was his group's priority because, unlike SB 901, it would not require the "politically dicey" act of getting the federal government to agree to a new program.

One source involved in the talks said some people worried that if Gov. Jerry Brown had both bills before him, he might veto the Trust Act. In the end, the Steinberg-Fuentes bill never reached the Senate floor.

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