Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins with Gov. Jerry Brown (left) and Sen. Kevin de León. Courtesy of Atkins' office
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins with Gov. Jerry Brown (left) and Sen. Kevin de León. Courtesy of Atkins’ office

The state with the largest number of undocumented immigrants passed a bill Thursday to protect those who are victims of crimes from being deported.

The California Assembly passed the the Immigrant Victims of Crime Equity Act, which was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins of San Diego and Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León of Los Angeles.

The new law, which goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for signature, reduces the threat of deportation for immigrant crime victims in order to encourage their cooperation with law enforcement.

“Every time a criminal goes free because the victim fears deportation and the police, we are all a little less safe,” said De León. “Fear and mistrust are obstacles to the administration of justice.”

The new bill comes as Republican Presidential front-runner Donald Trump criticizes immigrants as “criminals” and “rapists” and calls for deporting 11 million people. California has the largest population of undocumented immigrants, an estimated 2.45 million.

SB 674 requires local and state law enforcement agencies to sign certifications for qualified immigrant crime victims when they have been helpful to the investigation of crimes like sexual assault and domestic violence.

These certifications are prerequisites to an application for a Victim of Crime “U-Visa.” U-Visas are issued by the federal government and prevent deportation of victims of specific crimes who have been helpful to the investigation or prosecution.

“It should not matter where you became the victim of domestic violence to qualify for a U-Visa,” said Atkins. “This bill makes it clear that all entities that can certify that a victim was helpful must do so if the victim has suffered due to one of the qualifying crimes and was helpful or is expected to be helpful to the prosecution during the investigation.”

If SB 674 becomes law, it will also provide relief to victims of domestic violence, said Kathy Moore, executive director of the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence. “Abusers will often exploit their partner’s immigration status as a way of maintaining power and control, and this leaves them in a particularly vulnerable situation,” Moore said.

The bill is part of the sweeping Immigrants Shape California legislative package, Assembly and Senate bills that ensure “liberty and justice” for California’s undocumented residents.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.