Gov. Jerry Brown declares sanctuary state

Madison White

California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law on Oct. 5 declaring California a sanctuary state.  The bill, known as the California Values Act, restricts state law enforcement from complying with the federal immigration policy, effectively making it a sanctuary for undocumented Americans starting in January 2018. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, there are over two million undocumented residents in California — nearly a quarter of the national undocumented population.

 The California Values Act will provide legal backing to the Whittier College Poet Student Sanctuary Protection Policy, which shields undocumented students from inquiries about their immigration status. “I appreciate the actions taken by Governor Brown to support all people of California. I hope that his decision will make living and getting an education in the state safer and more welcoming for all of the undocumented and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) students, including those on our own campus,” said President Herzberger in response to the bill.

 The passing of this bill is timely, considering Oct. 5 was also the deadline for DACA renewal applications. In early September, President Trump announced that Congress had six months to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, or Congress would begin the process of rolling back DACA. DACA de-prioritizes deportation for those who were brought to the United States as young children. Although DACA is deferred action, there is still no path to citizenship for DACA recipients. If DACA was eliminated, it would put nearly 800,000 people at risk for deportation. Vice President and Dean of Students Joel Pérez said of the California Values Act, “This bill will go a long way in protecting immigrants who have contributed so much by their hard work and commitment to this state.”

Prior to the bill’s passage, the term ‘sanctuary city’ was mostly a symbolic gesture that affirmed support for the undocumented community. In spring 2016, the Whittier College Board of Trustees signed in the Protection Policy, vocalizing their “unconditional support” for all students. Fourth-year Gaby Gil and third-year Cristian Alcantara are both DACA recipients who were instrumental in the movement to have the College deemed a sanctuary school. 

In regards to the California Values Act, Alcantara said, “This is a safety net for our community. It’s a small victory, and it’s kind of hard to call it a victory with everything else that’s going on.” Both Gil and Alcantara are anxiously looking to the future to see what steps can be taken to protect undocumented residents in other, less supportive states. “I recognize the privilege of being in a state that’s more supportive towards undocumented immigrants,” said Gil. “The movement looks different in different states – now we have to figure out what comes next.”

The Protection Plan also states that the College’s Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) “shall continue to be the primary resource for assisting members of the Whittier College community who have undocumented and DACA immigration status. The Office of Equity and Inclusion is directed to continue to disseminate to the campus community information concerning resources and forms of support, to enable all members to be excellent stewards of our students.”

The OEI connects undocumented students with support programs as well as scholarships, as undocumented students are not eligible for federal financial aid. It also provides resources for these potentially vulnerable students, including the Undocu-Ally training for faculty and staff. According to the OEI, those who undergo Undocu-Ally training take the following pledge: 

“I will respect an individual’s right to privacy, as stipulated in the Confidentiality section of the Undocu-Ally Handbook.

I will refer individuals when appropriate to the proper resources and referrals that are known to me and follow through to make sure the referral was effective.

I will display my Undocu-Ally decal in a visible place.

I will not engage in inappropriate relationships with individuals seeking help through the Undocu-Ally Project.” 

The Undocu-Ally Task Force was created following the training and is devoted to allocating resources to the college experience of undocumented students. “I would like our students who are undocumented and DACAmented to know that we here to support them and assist them during this time of uncertainty,” said Pérez.

Under the California Values Act, state police officers and sheriffs are not allowed to question anyone’s immigration status, and state institutions are not allowed to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). State law enforcement has discretionary powers to notify ICE in regards to convicted felons, and ICE can interview detainees on an individual basis. Visiting Assistant Professor of Political ScienceAndrew Dzeguze said on the matter, “California has a very interesting history with immigration policy. Proposition 187 in 1994 sought to strip people of benefits rights based on their immigration status.” Dzeguze’s specialty is American politics and the legal system. “The legal issue with Proposition 187 is that the 14th Amendment extends to any person within a state’s jurisdiction, not just citizens. That goes both ways and could support a legal argument for sanctuary status,” said Dzeguze.

There are concerns about the government withholding federal funds from the state of California because of this decision. The Tenth Amendment states that the federal government cannot force states to comply with federal law, but the next Congressional budget might make compliance with ICE immigration policies mandatory in order to receive grant money.There’s a legal question as to the extent the federal government can rollback in, funding states, which have consistently received and depended on, but it is unclear where the line will be drawn. “How that’ll apply to a private, liberal arts college is probably through the Department of Education grant money,” saidDzeguze. “Things like Title IX grants are probably the mechanism the federal government would use. The question is, can they do that? We don’t know yet.”

The importance of having a state law that protects undocumented residents is that the College’s Protection Policy states, “To the full extent permitted by law, Whittier College faculty, administrators, and staff, including Campus Safety personnel and the Registrar, will not knowingly assist Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol authorities in information gathering, deportation, immigration raids or individual targeting or intimidation of Whittier College students or any other members of the Whittier College community.” It is easier for the College to protect students “to the fullest extent permitted by law” when they have a law that greatly constricts what ICE or Border Patrol agents have the authority to do. 

There is still a lot up in the air about the new relationship between the state and federal government in regards to immigration. “ICE’s mission is to undertake immigration action, and they do not have to have approval of the state to enforce federal statutes.” said Dzeguze. Still, California lawmakers remain optimistic that the bill is the best way to protect California residents. California Attorney General Xavier Berccera stood behind the bill, stating he’s “ready to fully defend the law.”

 Here in Whittier, Alcantara said, “DACA recipients are #heretostay.” In the face of uncertainty, Gil urged her fellow students and community members not to be complacent. “Enough of people wanting to stay neutral. It’s time to take a stand. Pay attention to what you’re doing, what you’re saying. It matters.” The Quaker Campus will continue to follow this story as it develops.