California sanctuaries break police bonds
Border Patrol agents fear for public safety
The Border Patrol says it has been forced to release a drunken driver back onto the streets and nearly missed out on nabbing a fake UPS delivery van carrying 77 illegal immigrants — all because California’s sanctuary city laws have soured cooperation between police and federal authorities.
In the drunken-driving case, a local police department said it couldn’t respond to agents who had pulled over the driver, since it began as an immigration stop. They said it would violate the state’s sanctuary law limiting their ability to work with border or interior agents, Rodney S. Scott, chief patrol agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, told a federal court.
In the other case, the 77 illegal immigrants were likely nabbed only because an agent happened to stop to help a highway patrol officer who had pulled over the fake truck, Mr. Scott said. He said the highway patrol was salty that the Border Patrol had even become involved.
Those were some of the details to emerge Wednesday as all sides began to grapple with the Trump administration’s lawsuit challenging three of California’s sanctuary laws.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially announced the move in a speech to California law enforcement in Sacramento, saying the state’s policies were akin to slave-holding states attempting to thwart federal law before the Civil War.
“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” he said. “Federal law is ‘ the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg, to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the state legislation last year, fired back by questioning why a “fella from Alabama” would be talking about secession and saying Mr. Sessions was trying to ingratiate himself with President Trump. He said Mr. Sessions should apologize for even filing the lawsuit.
“This is basically going to war against the state of California,” said Mr. Brown, adding for good measure that he expects more of Mr. Trump’s “liars” to be snared by special counsel Robert Mueller.
“This lawsuit is going to last a lot longer than the Trump administration,” he said, at one point referring to Mr. Trump as “Donald” and Mr. Sessions as “Jeff.”
Mr. Sessions is challenging three state laws: SB54, AB103 and AB450. Together, they prohibit police from asking about immigration status, prevent them from turning over immigrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Border Patrol, order businesses to refuse to cooperate with ICE, and task California investigators with looking into the detention of every illegal immigrant held in the state.
The Justice Department says those state laws thwart national immigration policies, violating the Constitution and federal law.
California counters that the federal government can continue to enforce laws but can’t commandeer help from local police.
Agent Scott, in his sworn declaration filed in the case, said the laws go well beyond that to actively obstruct public safety and law enforcement.
In the drunken-driving case, he said, his agents conducted a stop of a vehicle under their immigration powers. They found no immigration problems but said it was obvious the driver was intoxicated. The agents called the local Indio Police Department, but officers refused to respond “because the initial vehicle stop was immigration-based.”
“Under those circumstances, Border Patrol had no choice but to release the intoxicated subject to the public,” Mr. Scott said.
The Washington Times provided Indio police with the documents, but the department didn’t respond.
Mr. Scott detailed another incident in which El Cajon police failed to respond as his agents called for help during a 20-mile highway chase through their jurisdiction.
“This declination for assistance occurred even though it involved a vehicle that failed to yield, endangering federal law enforcement and the public while traveling on a California interstate and highway within their jurisdiction,” he said.
El Cajon police didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Describing the third incident, involving the fake UPS truck, Mr. Scott said a California Highway Patrol officer had pulled over the vehicle for invalid registration. It turned out the plates were cloned and the vehicle was engaged in immigrant smuggling.
A Border Patrol agent pulled up to assist — a common courtesy among law enforcement agents who see other officers conducting solo stops — and was able to take control of the immigration case, arresting the illegal immigrants and the driver.
But Mr. Scott said if his agent hadn’t been there, the highway patrol officer could have let the smuggler and all 77 illegal immigrants go. The highway patrol later complained about the stop, Mr. Scott said.
“Although the encounter was the result of an agent taking initiative and attempting to ensure the safety of a fellow law enforcement officer conducting a single officer vehicle stop, it was seen as a negative encounter due to the passage of SB 54,” Mr. Scott said.
The highway patrol, provided with Mr. Scott’s testimony, told The Times that it would not comment on the incident because of the Sessions lawsuit.
Mr. Scott said cooperation has soured in other ways. His agents are no longer releasing illegal immigrants they catch to state and local police to serve time for previous crimes because they no longer have confidence that the people will be turned back over for deportation.
He said a sex offender, two drug offenders and one drunken driver avoided additional jail time because police wouldn’t assure agents that they would get the convicts back for deportation.
The problems even affected illegal immigrants wanted in other states. Mr. Scott said one immigrant was wanted in Iowa, and his agents intended to turn the person over to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department for extradition to Iowa.
But California allows extradition to be challenged. Since the Border Patrol couldn’t be sure of getting the man back from local authorities in that case, it ended up deporting him — denying Iowa the chance to jail him.
Mr. Brown, at a press conference Wednesday, said he was unaware of any of those instances and denied that the state laws were hindering public safety.
“That’s not true. We know the Trump administration is full of liars. They’ve pled guilty already to the special counsel,” he said.
He said the state’s laws don’t thwart federal agents, but ensure state and local officers and deputies aren’t compelled to help.
“Nothing stops the federal government from coming to a jail. The release records are public. There’s nothing that stops a sheriff who runs the jails to working with ICE. There’s nothing in the law that prevents ICE from working in our prisons, from working in our department of corrections,” he said.
Gov. Jerry Brown (left), with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, said U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions “is basically going to war against the state of California.”