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Immigration 101: Why is Jeff Sessions Suing California?

 

California laws are getting in the way of the Trump Administration’s ongoing war against immigrants

This week, the long-simmering battle between the Trump Administration and California over so-called “sanctuary cities” — also called “safe cities” — escalated when the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Golden State over three different safety-focused laws the state Legislature boldly passed last year to resist the Trump Administration’s efforts to “tear families apart, undermine our safety, and wreak havoc on our economy.” Gov. Jerry Brown accused the federal government of launching “a reign of terror” and “going to war” against California.

Here’s the breakdown of those three laws:

Senate Bill 54 (California Values Act): strictly limits local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody, except as required by federal law. It also creates safe spaces, including at schools, health facilities, and courthouses.

Assembly Bill 103 (Detention Review Law): Creates state inspections for federal immigration detention facilities, passed in response to rampant mistreatment and abuse of immigrants. More than 33,000 complaints of sexual or physical assault in immigration detention centers have been reported, with less than one percent investigated, according to Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

Assembly Bill 450 (Immigration Worker Protection Act): Makes it a crime for business owners to share immigration information about workers with ICE agents, except as required by law.

California’s defense

California’s objective is to protect families and public safety, said state Senate President pro tempore Kevin de León, saying that Sessions’ ideology is based on “white nationalism and white supremacy” that would “tear apart honest, hardworking families.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told NPR that California was exercising its 10th Amendment rights to protect public safety and would not be coerced into doing the federal government’s job on immigration enforcement.

The 10th Amendment and its protection of states’ rights have long been a rallying cry for conservatives. It’s what Trump cited to rescind Obama protections for transgender students and what Sessions has used to back up his opposition to a variety of federal laws. ACLU national legal director David Cole calls out the Trump Administration’s constitutional hypocrisy and stated:

Cities and states have the right to so choose because the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, which preserves state authority, bars the federal government from compelling states to enforce or administer federal laws. The Supreme Court has explained that states must have the ability to make autonomous decisions about deploying their resources, so the federal government cannot “commandeer” their cooperation in carrying out a federal program. That’s a principle conservatives have long championed. But now that they control Congress and the White House, they are less eager to honor its dictates, especially when they protect progressive cities.

The Trump Administration and its ongoing war against immigrants has forced California’s hand in doing whatever it can to protect local immigrants. In addition to mass deportations, the Trump Administration has launched sweeping ICE raids at California 7-Eleven franchises and arrested hundreds in Northern California in targeted and dragnet operations. In Oakland, Mayor Libby Schaff (D) warned residents of an impending raid by ICE; acting ICE director Thomas D. Homan and Trump attacked her and DHS has threatened to prosecute local elected officials like her.

Courts have repeatedly sided against Trump and Sessions

As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate wrote, Sessions’ lawsuit against California is likely “doomed,” because courts have repeatedly ruled in favor of states against federal compulsion on immigration.

Trump previously issued an executive order that would have made immigrant-safe jurisdictions ineligible for federal funds; a San Francisco court struck that down. And Jeff Sessions has issued letters to California and other safe jurisdictions, but courts have said that the federal government cannot coerce states or localities into action with a financial “gun to the head.”

And what Sessions and Trump ultimately want — for jurisdictions and local police to turn immigrants over to ICE — is definitely unconstitutional. This week, five leading immigrant and civil rights organizations issued a joint report warning of the legal liabilities faced by local governments when they honor ICE requests or participate in the federal government’s 287(g) program. As co-author Mark Fleming, associate director of litigation at the National Immigrant Justice Center stated:

It’s this simple: ICE is asking local law enforcement to break the law. The Trump and Obama administrations have made the ask in a half-dozen different ways, involving a half-dozen different combinations of paperwork, but they have not managed to change the fundamental fault that the courts continue to point out: detainers are illegal.

One continued danger for California and its immigrants, however, are ICE agents. Homan has already vowed more workplace enforcement and warned that California “better hold on tight”; ICE already has a record of retaliating against jurisdictions deemed too friendly to immigrants.

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