Sessions will go to court over sanctuary laws Files lawsuit against California calling policies dangerous to communities
Attorney General Jeff Sessions opened a new front in the legal war over California’s sanctuary city policies last week, asking a federal court to halt three state laws that prohibit police and businesses from cooperating with federal agents.
The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Sacramento, says those laws not only trample on the federal government’s power to set national immigration policy, but they also endanger communities by freeing criminals back onto the streets.
“The Department of Justice and Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you,” Mr. Sessions said in a speech to the California Peace Officers Association, where he is expected to announce the lawsuit.
The move comes just days after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra accused the Trump administration of “terrorizing” immigrant communities with an enforcement sweep that netted more than 200 deportable immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf sparked controversy after she tipped off immigrants to the sweep. Federal officials said she may have helped as many as 800 criminal immigrants escape deportation officers.
The White House confirmed last week that Ms. Schaaf is under investigation for her actions.
A crackdown on sanctuary cities has been a major focus of President Trump, who in 2015, just after announcing his presidential bid, seized on the killing of Kate Steinle by an illegal immigrant who had been released from jail under San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.
But Mr. Trump’s attempts to crack down on sanctuaries have sparked a backlash. Analysts said hundreds of jurisdictions embraced sanctuary policies last year, chiefly in reaction to Mr. Trump.
California led the way, with Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signing three pieces of legislation limiting cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Senate Bill 54, which took effect Jan. 1, bars state and local law enforcement officials from asking people their immigration status, prohibits them from holding migrants for pickup by ICE and limits how much information they are allowed to provide to ICE officers.
Assembly Bill 103, which became law last summer, requires a state-run inspection of migrants held in federal prisons — including the circumstances of their arrests and their processing. The lawsuit says those requests are improper and that the state has “no lawful interest in investigating federal law enforcement efforts.”
Assembly Bill 450, which took effect Jan. 1, prohibits private employers from voluntarily sharing information with federal immigration officials or allowing officers in private areas of their businesses.
Mr. Becerra issued a warning this year that he intended to prosecute businesses under Assembly Bill 450. Violators face fines ranging from $2,000 to $10,000.
Mr. Becerra and Mr. Brown are named as defendants in the new lawsuit.
Mr. Brown, in a statement Tuesday, said SB54 still allowed Homeland Security agents to enforce federal laws in California. And he said local sheriffs can still allow deportation officers access to their jails, if they wish.
“At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America,” he said. “Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!”
Mr. Becerra added on Twitter that “no matter what happens in Washington, California will stay the course and enforce all our laws and protect all our people. That’s how we keep our communities safe.”
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, author of SB54, predicted California would prevail in court “based on Jeff Session’s [sic] track record in courts so far.”
“Bottom line: California will NOT help President Trump, Jeff Sessions or [ICE chief] Thomas Homan rip children from the arms of their mothers and fathers,” the lawmaker tweeted. “Here in CA, we embrace our historic diversity, and we will do everything in our legal power to protect it.”
A senior Department of Justice official said California has been targeted because the laws went into effect recently but other states’ laws also are under review.
The California lawsuit says the state is attempting to interfere with federal immigration enforcement.
Much of the complaint hinges on a 2012 Supreme Court ruling in which the justices overturned part of Arizona’s state immigration laws, saying states couldn’t be allowed to create a patchwork of policies.
In that case, Arizona sought to help boost enforcement by pushing local police to inquire about immigration status and sought to impose its own punishments on illegal immigrants. The high court ruled that the state’s independent penalties amounted to interference with federal policy.
The Trump administration says that if Arizona’s efforts to help federal authorities were illegal, then California’s efforts to “obstruct” also are illegal.
“Based on its enumerated powers and its constitutional power as a sovereign to control and conduct relations with foreign nations, the United States has broad authority to establish immigration laws, the execution of which the States cannot obstruct or discriminate against,” the lawsuit says, citing that 2012 case.
The State Department also weighed in as part of the lawsuit, saying that California’s laws are interfering with the government’s efforts to get other countries to take back their illegal immigrants.
Analysts disagree over the effects of sanctuary policies.
Some studies have concluded that sanctuary cities are safer than other cities. Immigration enforcement advocates argue that those conclusions are skewed and draw a correlation between sanctuaries and safety that the data don’t support.
The Justice Department lawsuit is just the latest in a running battle over sanctuary policies.
The Trump administration last year announced plans to withhold federal grant money from jurisdictions deemed to refuse cooperation with ICE. Cities in California, Pennsylvania and Illinois have won rulings limiting those efforts.
Immigration rights activists lost a round this week when a federal judge in San Francisco did not immediately require the Trump administration to award California a federal law enforcement grant over concerns that the state does not comply with immigration law. U.S. District Judge William Orrick rejected the state’s request for a preliminary injunction.