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Battle Over Sanctuary Cities Pits California Against Texas

  • Trump to support Texas in trying to punish sanctuary cities
  • California considering becoming safe harbor for immigrants

The White House has ordered the U.S. Justice Department to jump into Texas’s battle to force its cities and elected local officials to comply with the state’s tough sanctuary-city ban, which makes it a crime to shelter some undocumented immigrants from deportation.

The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) received email notification Monday from the Justice Department that it will soon file court documents to support Texas in the rapidly expanding legal challenge over the state’s ban. The message said U.S. lawyers will also appear at a June 26 San Antonio federal court hearing on whether the ban should be blocked before it can take effect Sept. 1.

At the same time, California was taking steps to thwart Trump’s stance, with the Legislature considering a bill that would formally declare the most populous state a sanctuary, barring local law enforcement from using resources to help federal authorities target immigrants for deportation. The state senate’s legal adviser, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, wrote a letter Monday to his successor, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in anticipation of a conflict with the Trump administration should the measure become law.

“As a sovereign state, California has the constitutional authority and responsibility to allocate its limited state resources to those areas of greatest significance to the safety and well being of its residents," Holder wrote. “California is not required, in other words, to divert those resources and compromise its security to enforce federal immigration laws.”

Why Sanctuary Cities Are a Target for Trump: QuickTake Q&A

Nicole Navas, a DOJ spokeswoman, said the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. Luis Roberto Vera Jr., national general counsel of LULAC, provided Bloomberg News with a copy of the memo he received earlier today from Erez Reuveni, a senior litigation attorney in the Justice Department’s immigration-litigation office.

Executive Order

President Donald Trump on Jan. 25 threatened to strip federal aid from cities that protect undocumented immigrants from prosecution and deportation. The president’s executive order set up a showdown with dozens of municipalities, including the nation’s largest cities, over billions of dollars in funding that helps pay for police, schools, health care and road and bridge maintenance.

Trump made attacks on sanctuary cities a campaign staple and has said he would deport more than 11 million people, beginning with gang members, drug dealers and other criminals.

New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco are among the scores of cities that refuse to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities. Police and other agencies don’t share information about them, on the grounds that would harm their communities and impede police effectiveness in minority neighborhoods.

Texas’s ban goes several steps further than Trump’s proposed policy against sanctuary cities, which has been placed on hold by a federal judge in San Francisco. Texas’s ban seeks to punish cities and elected officials with stiff financial penalties, potential jail time and removal from office for failing to fully endorse and cooperation with federal immigration policies.

The Justice Department’s notice came after Dallas asked on June 16 to join the court challenge opposing the ban, which already includes Austin, San Antonio, El Paso, several large counties and the border town of El Cenizo. The mayor of Houston said he’ll ask local officials this week to let the fourth largest U.S. city also get into the fight.

Texas’s sanctuary city ban was pushed through the Republican-controlled legislature in May over loud objections from minority-rights groups, law enforcement officials, students and immigrants. Opponents fear the measure will lead to racial profiling of citizens and the jailing or removal of officials who voice opinions against the ban.

‘More Dangerous’

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has defended both the state’s and Trump’s sanctuary-city bans as necessary to protect citizens from criminal immigrants whose presence makes U.S. communities “more dangerous by the day.”

“If law enforcement authorities have policies of not cooperating with federal immigration authorities, dangerous criminals will unlawfully remain in the country, travel freely between states and continue to evade the justice system,” Paxton said Monday, in a statement.

Holder argued that California’s position is bolstered by a San Francisco federal judge’s April 25 ruling that blocked most of Trump’s Jan. 25 executive order. The challenge to the president’s directive was brought by the city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, home to Silicon Valley.

The judge is scheduled to hear a request by the Justice Department on July 12 to dismiss the case after the Sessions agreed to scale back proposed defunding of sanctuary cities, to encompass a limited number of federal grants. West Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas are supporting the federal government’s request.

The Texas case is El Cenizo v. Texas, 5:17-cv-00404, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas (San Antonio). The California cases are City and County of San Francisco v. Trump, 17-cv-00485, and County of Santa Clara v. Trump, 17-cv-00574, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Francisco).

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