Justice Department Sues California Over ‘Sanctuary’ Laws Protecting Immigrants

Last week, the Department of Justice announced plans to sue California over its sanctuary policies. After months of escalating and threatening rhetoric from the Trump administration, it’s a suit that may have been a long time coming — and one that could become a significant test of policies designed to act as bulwarks against anti-immigrant attacks.

But how did we get here? Even before Trump took office, California — the world’s sixth largest economy — was laying the groundwork to oppose what officials view as harmful federal policies. And that included local ordinances, such as sanctuary city declarations across the state, as well as state laws designed to protect civil rights, natural resources and values like diversity and inclusion.

And California didn’t just legislate. It also litigated.

In 2017, the state sued the Trump administration on 17 occasions over issues like immigration, birth control, the ban on transgender service members, student loan protections, natural gas rules and more. The state has taken an outspoken and robust lead that’s made it unpopular with Trump officials.

Leaders like Oakland’s mayor, Libby Schaaf, have further heightened the debate with moves like publicly announcing planned Immigrations and Customs Enforcement actions to give members of their communities time to prepare. As a result, Schaaf has become a significant target for conservative ire.

Three laws in particular have attracted the ire of the federal government, and they could become a significant precedent-setter for states’ rights arguments. One law mandates that employers cannot turn over employee records to immigration officials without a court order. Another bars data sharing with ICE by state and local agencies, except in cases where people have been accused of serious crimes. And in the state budget, lawmakers withheld funds for new immigration detention and mandated better oversight of existing immigration detention facilities.

State officials say laws like these, which fall broadly under the header of sanctuary policies, are necessary for public safety and civil rights. From a public safety perspective, protecting immigrant communities can make people feel more confident about reporting crime and cooperating with law enforcement in investigations, knowing that they won’t become targets of deportation. From a civil rights perspective, proponents argue, people who are working, going to school, playing a role in their communities and contributing to society should be left alone — while those who are committing crimes should, of course, be identified and penalized.

Federal officials claim this is an overreach, insisting that these laws interfere with the government’s ability to function. They argue the state is making it easier for criminals to get away with heinous crimes — sometimes invoking the Kate Steinle shooting, in which a young woman was shot by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported multiple times. He was found not guilty after admitting that he’d accidentally shot her.

The Justice Department’s suit against California aims to prove that the state is exceeding its purview, likely with the hope of going after other states that have enacted sanctuary laws. Some have compared the situation to the dispute over a draconian anti-immigrant law passed in Arizona during the Obama administration — that law was successfully challenged. They claim that if Arizona couldn’t pass an immigration law because it overrides the federal government’s authority, neither should California.

But California disagrees. In an interview with NPR, the mayor of Sacramento, a sanctuary city, said:

I understand the argument, but this is really turning that precedent on its head because in the Arizona case, of course, the federal – the state government was infringing upon the rights and the safety of people who were just trying to make their way. In this instance, of course the federal government’s doing just the opposite. And so I’m confident we’ll win in court because the lawsuit is a major overreach.

The state is attempting to argue that this is about civil rights and public safety, not immigration.

The outcome of this suit could have larger implications for California and the nation, as the state tests the boundaries of states rights. It also has big political implications: Trump is leaning on the suit to bolster his 2020 campaign, but Democrats like gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsom are also using it to jockey for position in their own political campaigns.

Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra held a fiery press conference in which Brown accused the Trump administration of “going to war against the state of California.” It seems probable that the president may find a hostile welcome when he makes his scheduled visit to California on March 13.

Photo Credit: Franco Folini/Flickr

71 comments

Joan E
Joan E3 months ago

There is no justice in Trump's Justice Dept, no environmental protection in Trump's EPA, no education in Trump's Education Department, no anything good in anything Trump touches.

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Pat P
Pat P3 months ago

ICE is a dangerous brutal organization. I knew an innocent decent family that was terrorized and destroyed by them.

Trump's wife is an immigrant--and one who illegally worked on her Visitors's VISA. He, conveniently, overlooks facts. We are a country made up of immigrants. Of course, all criminals should be prosecuted, but the punishment doesn't often fit the crime--usually, draconian for the poor minorities.

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Paul B
Paul B3 months ago

I don't understand the left's compulsion to protect illegal criminals. Almost all of those being rounded up for prosecution and deportation are criminals, not your basic hard working illegals. The State of CA is going off the rails. The civil war was fought over states rights, mostly taxation and trade infringement. Many who entered the war from the North had no idea it was to end slavery and felt betrayed. It is referred to as the big bait and switch. The history books have been sanitized by the left to create a false image of the war.
Anyway, CA is not only protecting, but obstructing the efforts of ICE to clean-up the same neighborhoods the state says it wants to protect, but in fact is only harboring the criminals who prey on the immigrant communities. It is counterproductive to what they are actually trying to achieve.

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Sheila D
Sheila D3 months ago

Keep in mind, not all California immigrants are from Mexico, though that seems to be this administrations focus.

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Sheila D
Sheila D3 months ago

The Feds just can't seem to make up their minds; give the States the right to make their own laws or force them to follow this administrations whims. California should have the right to decide what's best for them regarding immigration, as should any other state.

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Winn A
Winnie Adams3 months ago

:-(

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Winn A
Winnie Adams3 months ago

Signed

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Sherri S
Sherri S3 months ago

I don't support ANYONE who breaks the law!

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