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California bill protecting immigrants closer to approval

In this photo taken Sept. 7, 2017, a student walks past a tip sheet for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients who fear deportation that is taped to a window on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif. Colleges and universities nationwide are stepping up efforts to help the students who are often called

In this photo taken Sept. 7, 2017, a student walks past a tip sheet for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients who fear deportation that is taped to a window on the University of California, Berkeley campus in Berkeley, Calif. Colleges and universities nationwide are stepping up efforts to help the students who are often called "Dreamers," after the Trump administration announced plans last week to end that federal program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. (AP Photo/Jocelyn Gecker)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Democrats approved a "sanctuary state" bill Saturday that would limit how local and state police can interact with federal immigration agents.

The bill is intended to bolster immigrant protections in the state that are already among the toughest in the nation.

It will now be considered by Gov. Jerry Brown, who announced his support after the top state Senate leader agreed to water down the bill and preserve authority for jail and prison officials to co-operate 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.

"This comes as a relief that there are some legislators that are really listening," said Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

The measure cleared the Legislature with support only from Democrats over the objection of Republicans who it will protect criminals and make it harder for law-enforcement to keep people safe.

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 misdemeanours that can be charged as felonies. But they'll be barred from transferring immigrants to federal authorities if their rap sheet includes only minor offences .

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.

The bill will prevent local police from becoming "cogs in the Trump deportation machine," de Leon said.

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

"In my view this bill's going to make us less safe," said Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton. "It's going to protect the criminal at the expense of the law abiding citizen."

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.

As lawmakers considered the bill Friday another high-profile killing in San Francisco spotlighted the sanctuary issue. Immigration and Customs Enforcement disclosed that two weeks ago, before 18-year-old Erick Garcia-Pineda was a murder suspect, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department denied a request to hold him until federal authorities could take him into custody for deportation proceedings.

California's Democratic political leaders have positioned the nation's largest state as a foil to Trump and his administration. They've passed legislation and filed lawsuits aimed at protecting immigrants, combating climate change and blocking any future attempt to build a registry of Muslims.

A federal judge in Chicago ruled Friday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions cannot follow through with his threat to withhold public safety grant money to so-called sanctuary cities for refusing his order to impose tough immigration policies.

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