California Laws Protecting Immigrants’ Civil Rights

Over the last several years, California has taken significant strides to protect immigrants, passing a broad range of laws to expand and uphold the civil and labor rights of immigrants, to equalize access to higher education, and to define the role local law enforcement agencies may play in the enforcement of federal immigration law. In its brief, "California Blueprint: Two Decades of Pro-Immigrant Transformation," the California Immigrant Policy Center highlights the broad range of state laws enacted since 1996.

The California Attorney General, as the state’s top law enforcement officer, is uniquely charged with overseeing effective implementation of the laws affecting California law enforcement agencies. Summaries of select laws enacted in recent years appear below.

California's Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act

Effective January 1, 2017, California's Transparent Review of Unjust Transfers and Holds (TRUTH) Act ensures that local law enforcement agencies provide individuals in their custody with basic due process and information about their rights should federal immigration authorities seek to make contact with them. Specifically, the law requires:

  • Before subjecting an individual in its custody to an interview Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) a local law enforcement entity shall provide the individual with a written consent form, in a language that is understandable to the individual, that explains all of the following:
    • The purpose of the interview;
    • That the interview is voluntary; and
    • That he or she may decline the interview or may choose to be interviewed only with his or her attorney present.
  • Upon receiving any detainer, notification, or transfer request, the local law enforcement agency shall:
    • Provide a copy of the request to the individual; and
    • Inform the individual whether the law enforcement agency intends to comply with the request.
  • If a local law enforcement agency chooses to provide ICE with notification that an individual will be released from custody on a certain date, the local law enforcement agency must promptly provide the same notification in writing to the individual and to his or her attorney or other person designated by the individual being held.
  • All records relating to ICE access provided by local law enforcement agencies, including all communication with ICE, are public records for purposes of the California Public Records Act, but to protect the privacy of individuals, personal identifying information may be redacted prior to public disclosure.

California's Racial and Identity Profiling Act (AB 953)

Effective January 1, 2016, California's Racial and Identity Profiling Act (AB 953) includes requirements regarding a number of significant law enforcement issues.

  • Specifically, beginning January 2016, in addition to reporting on citizen complaints received by law enforcement agencies, AB 953 requires California law enforcement agencies to begin collecting and reporting data on complaints that allege racial or identity profiling.
  • AB 953 also expanded the definition of racial and identity profiling, to clarify that it is "the consideration of, or reliance on, to any degree, actual or perceived race, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, religion, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability in deciding which persons to subject to a stop or in deciding upon the scope or substance of law enforcement activities following a stop, except that an officer may consider or rely on characteristics listed in a specific suspect description."
  • In addition to requiring the collection and reporting of data regarding citizen complaints that allege racial or identity profiling, AB 953 requires all city and county local law enforcement agencies in California, as well as the California Highway Patrol and peace officers of California state and university educational institutions, to collect perceived demographic and other detailed data on persons that they "stop," as defined in the law. The California Department of Justice is responsible for writing regulations to govern this data collection.
  • AB 953 also mandates the creation of the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board, for the purpose of eliminating racial and identity profiling and improving diversity and racial and identity sensitivity in law enforcement.

For more information on the Racial and Identity Profiling Act, (AB 953), see the Attorney General's website: /ab953.

California's Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act

Under federal law, immigrant victims of serious crimes – and certain family members – may qualify for protection from deportation and, eventually, legal status, if law enforcement officials certify that they have assisted, are assisting, or will be assisting in the investigation or prosecution of the crimes. U visas are designed for individuals who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse because of criminal activity, and who have and/or are willing to continue to assist federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies or government officials in the investigation of that criminal activity.

Effective January 1, 2016, California's Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act requires state and local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, and other specified officials must certify the helpfulness of immigrant crime victims as part of the federal U visa certification" when certain conditions are met.

The law requires certifying entities to complete the certification within 90 days of the request, except in cases where the applicant is in immigration removal proceedings, in which case the certification must be completed within 14 days of the request. The law also includes a "rebuttable presumption," meaning that it is assumed that an immigrant victim is helpful, has been helpful, or is likely to be helpful, if the victim has not refused or failed to provide information and assistance reasonably requested by law enforcement.

For more information on the Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act, see the Attorney General's information bulletin to California law enforcement agencies detailing responsibilities under state law to assist immigrant crime victims in applying for U visas

California's Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act

Effective January 1, 2014, California's Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act defines the circumstances in which local law enforcement agencies may comply with immigration detainer requests. Detainer requests are the tool that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses when it wants state or local law enforcement agencies to detain individuals beyond their ordinary release because ICE believes the individual is in violation of federal immigration laws.

ICE’s detainer practices with local law enforcement agencies have been a source of controversy for many years, with a number of courts raising questions regarding their constitutional adequacy. Concerns also arise over their negative impact on trust and cooperation between immigrants and law enforcement. In 2013, as a response to these growing concerns and to protect the public safety of its residents, California enacted the TRUST Act.

In accordance with the TRUST Act, if a local law enforcement agency wishes to comply with a voluntary ICE detainer request, two conditions must be met. First, the continued detention cannot violate any federal, state, or local law, or any local policy – including protections afforded by the US Constitution. Most California sheriffs require that detainers be supported by a judicial warrant in order to ensure adherence with Fourth Amendment protections.

Second, the individual must have been convicted of certain specific crimes, or meet other specific criminal criteria. Only if both conditions are met may local law enforcement detain an individual for up to 48 hours beyond their ordinary release.

Access to Crime Reports for Victims of Crime

Effective January 1, 2014, Assembly Bill 1195 ensures that any victim of crime, regardless of that individual's legal status, has the right to access their crime report, and specifies that a state or local law enforcement agency cannot deny a victim of a crime access to his or her crime report because the victim cannot prove lawful presence in the country.