Trump Administration Goes on Offense, Sues California over Sanctuary Laws

Josh Gerstein, Politico, March 6, 2018

After more than a year on defense against a flurry of legal challenges to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, the Justice Department went on offense Tuesday, filing a suit against the State of California that alleges obstruction of federal immigration enforcement.

Filed in federal court in Sacramento, the lawsuit targets three sanctuary-focused laws that the California Legislature passed last year. Each was passed as part of a backlash against Trump’s vows to step up immigration enforcement.

The litigation is modeled on a lawsuit the Obama administration filed in 2010 against a controversial state law in Arizona that sought to crack down on illegal immigrants, SB 1070. That case resulted in a Supreme Court ruling finding that some provisions of the Arizona law unconstitutionally intruded into Congress’ right to set federal immigration policy.


“The Department of Justice and the Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you,” Sessions will tell the California Peace Officers Association meeting, according to excerpts of his planned remarks. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America. And I believe we are going to win.”


De León, who is campaigning to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, also cited crime statistics comparing California favorably to crime rates in Alabama, Sessions’ home state.

“Jeff Sessions would be better served to focus on his own backyard,” de León said.


The Trump administration’s lawsuit comes as top federal immigration officials are seething at California officials for flouting federal immigration laws. Just last week, the senior official at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, blasted Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning residents about impending immigration raids. Homan said the move put officers at risk.


Some Republicans immediately praised the lawsuit as putting the federal government’s authority first.

“Homeland security and immigration is primarily a federal government responsibility,” Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford tweeted. “To keep families safe and maintain an orderly immigration system, states must work with, not against, federal entities.”


One California law, SB 54, prohibits state and local officials from sharing information with immigration authorities under certain circumstances and also bars transfers of certain immigrants to federal custody. The suit argues that this law is not only unconstitutional, but also violates a specific federal statute on such information sharing.

Another of the state’s measures, AB 450, forbids private employers from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement at the workplace.

The third law, AB 103, seeks to regulate contract detention facilities used to hold federal immigration prisoners.

During a briefing for reporters on Tuesday, senior Justice Department officials said it was inconceivable that California would have passed such laws to interfere with criminal law enforcement agencies like the FBI. Federal immigration laws deserve to be treated with equal respect, said the officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified or quoted.


Becerra said California’s policies bolster law enforcement by encouraging reporting of crime. He also repeated his past contentions that the Justice Department is trying to commandeer local officials into federal service, something the Supreme Court has said the Constitution prohibits.


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