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US/California: Improve Trust Between Immigrants and Law Enforcement

Letter to Gov. Jerry Brown in Support of the TRUST Act

On July 25, 2012, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown in support of the TRUST Act. On August 31, we sent an updated letter again urging Gov. Brown to sign the bill into law. The text of this letter is below.


The Honorable Governor Jerry Brown
State Capitol, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814

RE: SUPPORT for the TRUST Act (AB 1081-Ammiano)

Dear Governor Brown:

Human Rights Watch writes in strong support of the TRUST Act (AB 1081-Ammiano), which would provide clear guidelines for California’s participation in “Secure Communities,” (commonly known as S-COMM), an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) program that requires local law enforcement to share fingerprints they collect with federal immigration authorities, who then request local law enforcement to detain certain individuals, regardless of whether criminal charges are pending. This bill will advance public safety by limiting the response to ICE holds of unauthorized immigrants to those convicted or charged by a District Attorney of serious or violent offenses, and by making clear to immigrant communities that mere contact with local law enforcement, including by victims and witnesses, will not lead to reporting to ICE.

Human Rights Watch has issued several reports documenting the heightened vulnerability of unauthorized immigrants to rights abuses, such as trafficking, workplace violations, and serious crimes. Our May 2012 report, Cultivating Fear, included statements from several unauthorized farmworkers, including in California, who said they were afraid to report rape and sexual assault to local police for fear that the police would report them to immigration authorities. Their fears were fueled by incidents in which family and friends had been reported to ICE and deported after minor contact with the police, such as a traffic stop or a telephone call to report domestic violence.

Secure Communities has exacerbated distrust of the police in immigrant communities in California. Since its implementation, Secure Communities has led to the deportation in California of over 72,000 residents – more than in any other state. Contrary to this program’s stated goal of prioritizing serious felony offenses, the vast majority of California residents deported, about 69 percent, are categorized by ICE as either “non-criminals” or lower level offenders.[1]  Even US citizens, survivors of domestic violence, and immigrants arrested for such minor offenses as selling street food without a permit have been detained due to S-Comm.[2]

Under international human rights law applicable to the US, all victims of crimes and abuses, regardless of immigration status, are entitled to protection and access to remedies. The federal, state, and local governments have an obligation under international human rights conventions to take measures to make this right to protection and redress meaningful. Law enforcement officials are well-aware that trust in immigrant communities is crucial if crimes are to be reported. As a police officer in Salinas, California, noted in Cultivating Fear, his department’s extensive outreach over the years to assure immigrants that all victims will be protected has had a recognizable impact on encouraging farmworker women to report sexual assault. By addressing the fear and distrust fomented by the indiscriminate impact of Secure Communities on immigrants with no or minor criminal convictions, AB 1081 would go far in better aligning California law enforcement policies with human rights principles.

We therefore respectfully urge California to restore trust of law enforcement in immigrant communities by passing AB 1081.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Antonio Ginatta, US advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, at 202-612-4343 or


David Keller                                                                     Amy Rao
Co-Chair, California Committee North                    Co-Chair, California Committee North


[1] See Secure Communities Data from ICE for October 27, 2008 through April 30, 2012, available at:

[2] See, e.g.,; and “Secure Communities by the Numbers,” Oct. 2011, by UC Berkeley’s Warren Institute, which estimated that some 3,600 US Citizens have been arrested by ICE through S-Comm.


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