‘Sanctuary laws’ roil California in fight with Justice Department

California is engaged in a battle with the federal government over its so-called "sanctuary laws" as some municipalities join a Department of Justice lawsuit seeking to block the measures. Photo by Christine Chew/UPI

April 6 (UPI) — California has become ground zero in a battle over so-called “sanctuary laws” aimed at protecting people from arrest and deportation amid a Trump administration crackdown on illegal immigration.

State laws that took effect Jan. 1 aim to circumvent local responsibility for immigration enforcement. But some California cities, counties and towns are revolting, instead taking measures to support enforcement.

“Overall what’s at stake is many states and localities have been experimenting with different policy efforts to protect immigrants and to get their local government officials out of the business of immigration enforcement,” said Annie Lai, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of California-Irvine.

On March 6, the U.S. Department of Justice sued California over three state laws passed last year:

— One that prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using public funds to “investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”

— One that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain a judicial warrant to enter a place of business that has non-public space without consent and restricts employers from sharing information with ICE without ensuring they have a warrant or subpoena.

— A public safety omnibus that includes provisions preventing state and local agencies from entering into contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants and allowing the state attorney general to monitor federal immigration detention facilities.

“Federal law is the supreme law of the land,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a recent speech in Sacramento. “A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law.”

Beyond California, some cities have declared themselves safe spaces, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago. In July, the Justice Department announced it would withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.

Federal judges in Chicago and San Francisco issued nationwide injunctionspreventing the Trump administration from adding conditions to Justice Department grant funding and a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled to block efforts to interfere with funds.

DOJ threatened subpoenas against 23 counties, cities and states demanding records of their sanctuary policies. But California, which has a history of pro-immigration legislation and Democratic leadership who have feuded with President Donald Trump, was the only state to face legal action seeking to block the measures.

“The state overall is pretty Democratic and so it has a lot of support in passing these sanctuary laws,” Rob Robinson, an assistant professor in political science at California State University-Fullerton, said. “It’s not surprising to me that this is the state where the sanctuary city issue is the strongest and because it is the strongest, that’s part of what drives the pushback.”


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