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Sessions’ DOJ Sues California over “Sanctuary” Laws


The Trump administration – which claims it supports small government and states’ rights – is showing its true colors by suing the state of California.

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Sacramento to announce that the Department of Justice was suing the state over its so-called “sanctuary” laws.

In a harsh speech riddled with references to “criminal aliens,” Sessions accused California officials of “advancing an open borders philosophy shared by only a few, the most radical extremists.”  

Sessions had particularly harsh words for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had tipped off the public that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers would soon be conducting crackdowns in the city. “How dare you,” Sessions told Schaaf. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda.”   

He even warned the state, “There is no secession,” as if these policies represented a slippery slope toward seceding from the Union.

What’s extremely interesting about the DOJ’s lawsuit is that it’s the flip-side of Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court case about the infamous SB 1070. 

The DOJ’s lawsuit takes aim at three laws California passed in 2017: 

SB 54: Also known as the California Values Act, this law prevents local law enforcement officials from telling federal agents when an immigrant will be released from incarceration. It also bars them from giving agents “nonpublic” information besides the person’s immigration status. And it forbids them from transferring immigrants directly from jails into federal custody without a warrant from a judge, unless the individual has committed certain serious crimes. 

AB 103: Sparked by numerous horror stories about conditions in detention facilities nationwide, this law requires the California attorney general to conduct a review of any facility where immigrants are detained. 

AB 450: Focusing on workplace raids, this law prohibits employers from allowing ICE to enter nonpublic areas of a workplace without a warrant, or to access employee records without a court order. The law does allow ICE to access employees’ I-9 files, which verify a person’s ability to work legally in the U.S. However, it requires employers to inform employees within 72 hours of receiving a notice that ICE will inspect their I-9 files, and to inform them if, as a result, the employee has been deemed to be working illegally. 

Wait, that’s all?

To hear it from Sessions, “California has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers – to intentionally use every power it has to undermine duly-established immigration law in America.”

But the above laws seem simply to promote due process and decent facilities. They certainly do not prevent ICE from doing its work or arresting those immigrants who pose a danger to the public. 

What’s extremely interesting about the DOJ’s lawsuit is that it represents the flip-side of Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court case about the infamous SB 1070. 

In that situation, Arizona’s Republican government thought federal immigration enforcement under the Democratic presidency was too lenient. So it enacted harsh immigration laws, claiming that the “state sovereignty” clause of the U.S. Constitution allowed Arizona to take immigration enforcement into its own hands. The Supreme Court disagreed, saying that three provisions of SB 1070 violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives federal laws precedence over state laws.

Now, California’s Democratic government thinks federal immigration enforcement under the Republican presidency is too heavy-handed and violates due process. So, claiming state sovereignty, California enacted state laws that offer undocumented immigrants due process protections from a federal immigration system that now resembles SB 1070 on steroids.

So, what’s different in this case that might result in a different outcome? 

“Arizona was trying to set immigration policy, which the states don’t have the right or the power to do.  That’s left to the federal government,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told NPR. “[California] didn’t enact immigration laws. We enacted laws regarding our public safety.”

According to legal experts, this case will likely go to the Supreme Court and will revolve around the debate between state sovereignty and the Supremacy Clause. 

It’s the same conflict that festered at the center of the Civil War, when Confederate states seceded from the Union over what they saw as states’ rights to own slaves.

California Governor Jerry Brown nodded to history when he said of Sessions’ rant: “This is completely unprecedented for the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the United States to come out here and engage in a political stunt, make wild accusations, many of which are based on outright lies. That is unusual, particularly from a fellow coming from Alabama, talking to us about secession and protecting human and civil rights.”

Lacey & Larkin Frontera Fund will keep you updated about this ongoing issue.