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Brown signs law limiting detention of immigrants

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A package of immigration-related bills earned Gov. Jerry Brown's signature Saturday, including a bill that prohibits local law enforcement agencies from detaining people for deportation if they are arrested for a minor crime and otherwise eligible to be released from custody.

AB4 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, creates a statewide standard for how local agencies comply with the federal Secure Communities program, which requires law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of people who are arrested and to hold for 48 hours anyone whom federal authorities wish to detain.

The law Brown signed allows state and local police and sheriff's departments to detain immigrants only if they have been arrested for or convicted of certain serious or violent felonies. People could also be held if they were convicted of a misdemeanor crime that carries a felony equivalent, or if they are registered as sex offenders.

Supporters argued that limiting California's participation in Secure Communities was necessary because the program subjects people who are not criminals and victims caught up in domestic violence investigations to deportation.

"Soon, immigrant Californians and their family members will have the confidence that minor or unjustified arrests for things like selling food without a permit or having dogs that bark too loudly will not lead to extended and costly detentions in our local jails for deportation purposes," said Reshma Shamasunder, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The governor vetoed a similar measure last year because it did not let officials detain people convicted of crimes such as child abuse and drug trafficking. That was changed in this year's version.

The California District Attorneys Association remained opposed to the legislation, however, expressing concern it "could result in the inappropriate and untimely release of potentially dangerous offenders" and "would frustrate local cooperation with federal officials who maintain exclusive province over the enforcement of immigration law."

"It appears that this bill would permit a local policy to trump federal law, and it is not clear how such a provision would pass constitutional muster," the association wrote before the bill cleared the Legislature.

Representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were unavailable to comment Saturday because of the federal government shutdown, according to a voicemail greeting at the agency.

The guidance spelling out when officers would comply with the federal deportation program was one of eight immigration-related measures Brown signed as he faces an Oct. 13 deadline for approving or vetoing legislation.

The governor also approved a bill allowing lawyers to be admitted to the California bar and licensed to practice law in the state even if they are living in the U.S. illegally.

The legislation, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, was inspired by the case of law school graduate Sergio Garcia, 36, who passed the state's bar exam but entered the country illegally 20 years ago to pick almonds with his father.

A federal law passed by Congress in 1996 bars immigrants in the country illegally from receiving "professional licenses" from government agencies or with the use of public funds unless state lawmakers specifically vote otherwise.

The package of bills also included a measure stating that someone who threatens to report an immigrant's illegal status to authorities could be charged with criminal extortion. A related law subjects employers who retaliate against workers on the basis of immigration to fines and the loss of their business licenses.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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