In recent years the United States federal government has increasingly tapped local law enforcement to perform the federal functions of apprehending and detaining undocumented immigrants.

But a growing number of communities, police chiefs, and sheriffs are pushing back, arguing that when local cops get in the business of locking up immigrants they lose the trust and cooperation of the communities they serve. This in turn makes those communities less safe, they say, since unauthorized immigrants and those close to them become reluctant to report crimes for fear of drawing attention to themselves.

California has just become the latest state to pass a law limiting the involvement of local authorities in federal immigration enforcement. Under the TRUST Act, signed on Saturday by Gov. Jerry Brown, jails will generally hold only immigrants with previous criminal convictions for serious offenses for possible action by immigration authorities. 

The TRUST Act seeks to mitigate the impact of “Secure Communities,” a federal program under which immigrants who come into contact with local police for any reason can end up being flagged for immigration authorities.  Under the program, when state and local police provide the fingerprints of anyone arrested to federal officials, they are checked against immigration databases. Immigration authorities then issue “detainers,” requesting that the person be held, regardless of whether criminal charges have been filed. Although it has been billed as a tool for targeting serious criminals, in practice it has led to the detention and deportation of thousands of non-criminals, including victims of crimes.

It’s encouraging to see California follow the lead of the state of Connecticut, and the cities of Newark, New Orleans, Chicago, and other localities in limiting their participation in Secure Communities. But many jurisdictions around the country continue to take part.

Ultimately, the US government needs to end Secure Communities and related initiatives that confuse the goal of protecting public safety with enforcing civil immigration law, putting entire communities at risk.