Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg

U.S. Sues California to Void Sanctuary City Laws

Updated on
  • Trump has assailed state over its so-called sanctuary policy
  • Justice Department argues that statutes violate Constitution

The U.S. Justice Department sued California, escalating a war over the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration.

The lawsuit targets three state laws that interfere with federal immigration enforcement and violate the Constitution, according to the complaint filed Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento.

Specifically, the statutes at issue restrict state and local law enforcement entities, as well as private employers, from sharing information about undocumented immigrants with federal agencies including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Justice Department said in the lawsuit.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Homeland Security officials have threatened for months to take punitive action against the largest U.S. state by population over its refusal to help ramp up deportations. Just last week, a top administration official accused the mayor of Oakland, one of California’s largest cities, of sabotaging a federal raid targeting undocumented  immigrants after she issued a public warning about the enforcement action.

Sessions made an emotional appeal in a speech in Sacramento Wednesday, saying the Justice Department isn’t asking state or local agencies in California to enforce federal immigration laws but to stop obstructing U.S. law enforcement officials from doing so.

“Think about the officers knocking on a door to execute a warrant,” Sessions said in his prepared remarks. “It’s not fair to them to keep putting them in that situation by releasing criminal aliens into the community who shouldn’t even be in the country.”

“I sign condolence letters for law enforcement killed in the line of duty,” Sessions added. “I fundamentally reject, at my core, that we should further endanger the lives of those who risk everything for us just because some officials in California wants to violate the law in promotion of their radical agenda.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra -- named individually as a defendant in the lawsuit -- said local police will continue to work “in concert” with federal agents on issues related to drug enforcement and sex trafficking, but the Trump administration remains misguided in its attempts to encumber enforcement of California laws aimed at protecting its undocumented residents.

‘Track Record’

“We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation, and we’ll continue to uphold all of the laws, including AB450 and SB54,” he said at a press briefing in San Francisco shortly after the case was made public. “Our track record so far with this administration in court has been pretty good. We’ve proven that California is doing things the way it should, and also proven that it’s the Trump administration that has acted outside of the law.”

Sessions plans to discuss the lawsuit during a speech he is scheduled to give on Wednesday at a law enforcement conference in Sacramento.

“The Department of Justice and the Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed,” Sessions wrote in his prepared remarks. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America.”

Federal Funds

California has been at the forefront of litigation against the Trump administration and the Justice Department over immigration law, with a particular focus on using federal courts to protect the 2.6 million undocumented people living in the state. A federal judge ruled in favor of counties, including San Francisco, last year by prohibiting Sessions from withholding most federal funds to those jurisdictions with sanctuary policies.

Trump has also said he is considering pulling federal immigration enforcement agents out of California, which declared itself a sanctuary state in October, the first in the nation do so.

“Frankly, it’s a disgrace, the sanctuary city situation,” Trump said at the White House last month. If the administration were to remove Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials from California, the state would be “begging” for them to come back, he said. “I’m thinking about doing it.”

In the new lawsuit, the Justice Department wants to nullify Assembly Bill 450, which prohibits private companies from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration agencies; Senate Bill 54, which restricts state and local law enforcement officials from voluntarily giving federal agents information about criminal aliens who are subject to removal from the U.S.; and Assembly Bill 103, which authorizes state authorities to review and inspect federal detention facilities in California.

Constitutional Question

The department argues the state statutes are preempted by federal law and violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, under which a state’s authority is subordinate to the federal government.

When California passed sanctuary state legislation last year, it joined several of its cities and counties that have held that status for years. Under laws signed by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, federal immigration officials must produce a warrant to gain access to California work sites, and the state bars employers from sharing confidential employee information such as Social Security numbers without a subpoena. State and local law enforcement officials can’t use their resources to aid in federal immigration enforcement, but they also can’t stand in their way.

ICE agents have since targeted California with raids seeking to detain and deport undocumented immigrants. In late February, the agency announced it had apprehended more than 230 immigrants in a four-day operation across Northern California.

The Justice Department is reviewing statutes in other states, according to an official, and any law that expressly violates federal immigration enforcement powers could be subject to a court challenge.

The case is U.S. v. State of California, 2:18-cv-00490, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Sacramento).

(Updates with Sessions speech starting in fifth paragraph.)
    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE