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California governor vetoes bill curbing deportation checks

By Mary Slosson

SACRAMENTO (Reuters) - California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed an immigration measure dubbed the "anti-Arizona" bill late on Sunday that would shield some illegal immigrants from federal status checks.

The bill would have prohibited local authorities from honoring federal detention requests, which may lead to deportation proceedings, on illegal immigrants unless those individuals were charged or convicted of a serious or violent felony.

Supporters said the measure would have served as a counterpoint for what they say is racial profiling inherent in an Arizona law that cracks down on illegal immigration that was allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this summer.

In his veto message, Brown said that, while he supports comprehensive immigration reform, the bill was "fatally flawed" by exempted individuals who had committed crimes such as child abuse, drug trafficking and selling weapons.

"I believe it's unwise to interfere with a sheriff's discretion to comply with a detainer issued for people with those kinds of troubling criminal records," he said.

Brown's veto sparked ire among immigrant-rights groups who sponsored the measure and had been lobbying the governor to take a lenient stance toward illegal immigrants.

"Governor Brown has failed California's immigrant communities, imperiling civil rights and leaving us all less safe," Pablo Alvarado, executive director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said in a statement.

Activists had hoped that Brown would join a small but growing national trend in which communities resisted the information-sharing program between federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and local law enforcement, known as "Secure Communities."

DIVIDED DECISIONS

Critics have lambasted the program for placing victims of domestic violence in deportation proceedings and deterring immigrants from reporting crimes committed against them.

"He has doomed thousands of immigrants including domestic violence survivors, food vendors, and people who for minor offenses are separated from their loved ones and detained unjustly in local jails, solely to feed an out-of-control deportation program," Reshma Shamasunder, the executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, said.

But the bill's sponsor, Democratic Assembly member Tom Ammiano, said that the federal program has been responsible for deporting over 72,000 Californians, with 70 percent of those deported from the state having either no criminal convictions, or convictions for a minor offense.

If Brown had signed the bill, California would have stood apart not only from Arizona, but also Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah, which have all adopted strict laws in the past two years to try to discourage illegal immigrants from settling there.

However, Brown did sign a measure into law that allows some young illegal immigrants who qualify for a federal "deferred action" program that relaxes deportation rules to obtain driver's licenses.

That measure's sponsor, Democratic Assembly member Gilbert Cedillo, called the move "a victory for those who were brought here through no choice of their own, played by the rules, and are only asking to be included in and contribute to American society."

California has the largest population of undocumented immigrants in the United States, with nearly 2.6 million at the start of 2010, according to government figures.

(Reporting by Mary Slosson; editing by Philip Barbara)

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