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Trump Administration Sues California Over Sanctuary Laws

Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.
Susan Walsh / Associated Press
Attorney General Jeff Sessions makes a statement at the Justice Department in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017.
Trump Administration Sues California Over Sanctuary Laws
Trump Administration Sues California Over Sanctuary Laws GUEST:Dan Eaton, partner, Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek

Our top story on midday addition, the was a -- on KPBS Midday Edition, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has filed suit against the state of California's sanctuary laws, calling them unconstitutional. >> California absolutely, as it appears to me, is using every power it has, and powers it doesn't have, to frustrate federal law enforcement, so you will be sure I have -- I will be using every power I had to stop that, we will fight these irrational, unfair, unconstitutional policies. >> It claims that recent state laws interfere with the federal government's ability to enforce immigration law. Governor Jerry Brown responded by saying that the lawsuit is a political stunt. >> When it comes to these different laws, there is no doubt that the police can do their jobs, the federal government ought to do its job and not blame California for its own inability to solve the problem, whether it is of crime or immigration. >> Joining me is legal analyst, Dan Eaton. The California laws that have provoked the lawsuit have to do with how much the state is willing to grant information about residents who may be here illegally and state access to people in detention, can you give us more detail? >> There are three California statutes, enacted last year, that are in play, the first is called the immigrant worker protection act, AB 450, they cannot give axis to areas, or share employee records, absence -- absent some sort of subpoena, with respect to the employee, to immigration officials. The second law is AB 103, which says that the Attorney General is to inspect detention facilities with a document immigrants and is to be given access, to information, concerning those who are detained, who are undocumented, to ensure that they are being given appropriate due process rights, and the third is the California values act, which is AB 54 -- SB 54, which would prohibit law enforcement from voluntarily working with the immigration please, the status of the people who are undocumented, that are in local and state law enforcement, official custody. >> Jeff Sessions addressed a peace officers convention in Sacramento, and he said that federal law is the law of the land, and California cannot nullify immigration laws. Is that the essence of the federal government's argument? But yes, and the statement that the Attorney General made was correct, the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, article 6, does say that the Constitution and the federal laws are the Supreme Court of the land, not withstanding any state law to the contrary, it is important to understand that where a state law frustrates the accomplishment of a federal statutory, or interferes with the constitutional right or duty, the state law must yield, that is the basis on which the government is proceeding, saying these laws are making it virtually impossible for federal immigration officials to do their jobs, and also are discriminating against the federal government in a way that is also prohibited under federal law. >> On what legal basis does California claim the right to impose restrictions on what immigration officials can do? But the way you phrased the question suggest that they are imposing right, -- writes, but California is doing, according to Governor Jerry Brown, they are not interfering with the government, and the immigration officials abilities to do their job, all they are doing is carrying out certain things that are within their broad purview, as police actions, that the state may have, with respect to private employers. The federal government is saying it is making it virtually impossible for them to carry out federal laws, and the constitutional duties that they have, and California is saying no, it really isn't, and as a matter of fact and law, these laws, these California laws, are well within the purview of the state of California in the powers that are reserved to it under our system of federalism. >> Is California the only state with these kind of laws, or could perhaps this lawsuit be a warning to other jurisdictions? >> It is clearly the latter, it is designed to be a warning shot to other states like Illinois and New Mexico, as well as Colorado, that have so-called sanctuary laws, and the Attorney General, the U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is sending a strong warning shot that this kind of litigation is coming, and it has con -- gone beyond a, they are saying that some officials that are enacting the laws may be subject to federal prosecution down the line. >> Jeff Sessions spoke before and apparently sympathetic law enforcement group today, but many support keeping local law enforcement and deportation separate. Could that also be an argument that the state could use? But -- >> Yes, if they are within the scope of the powers that are reserved to the state and local authorities carrying out their police duties, then list lawsuit won't work, because they will not be found to interfere with the federal government's enforcement of immigration laws within the scope of the broad constitutional powers that are conferred on the federal government to control immigration policy. But yes, if the local law enforcement people are right, that this is a broad power of local police and sheriffs to do their job, and it doesn't really frustrate the power of the federal government, then Mr. Sessions and his love it will -- and his lawsuit will fail, that will be decided by a federal judge. >> What is the next step? >> A hearing on a motion for preliminary injunction to block the enforcement of these laws pending a fuller hearing, the federal government's motion for preliminary injunction has requested a date of April 5, but that is still to be determined by the judge, Judge John Mendez, of the Eastern District of California, a George W. Bush appointee. >> I have been speaking with Dan Eaton, a partner in San Diego, thank you.

UPDATE: 7:55 a.m., March 7, 2018

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is taking the fight over the nation's immigration policy directly to California by suing to block state laws that extend protections to people living in the U.S. illegally.

He is expected to speak to law enforcement officials in the state's capital Wednesday, just hours after the U.S. Justice Department filed suit — the most aggressive move yet in the Trump administration's push to force so-called sanctuary cities and states to cooperate with immigration authorities.

The U.S. Justice Department is challenging three California laws that, among other things, bar police from asking people about their citizenship status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities. The suit filed in federal court in Sacramento says the laws are unconstitutional and have kept federal agents from doing their jobs.

RELATED: DACA Deadline Arrives With Diminished Urgency

"The Department of Justice and the Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you," Sessions said in prepared remarks. "I believe that we are going to win."

California officials remained defiant, with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown mimicking President Trump on Twitter as he criticized Sessions for coming to Sacramento "to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don't work here. SAD!!!"

Brown is named in the lawsuit along with Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said the state is on firm legal footing.

"Our track record so far when it comes to any dispute with the federal government has been pretty good," Becerra said.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an escalating feud between the Trump administration and California, which has resisted the president on issues from taxes to marijuana policy and defiantly refuses to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will increase its presence in California, and Sessions wants to cut off funding to jurisdictions that won't cooperate.

"I say: Bring it on," said California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who wrote the so-called sanctuary state bill. Democratic Assembly Speaker Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was among those suggesting that Sessions shouldn't come at all.

The lawsuit was filed as the Justice Department also reviews Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's decision to warn of an immigration sweep in advance, which ICE said allowed hundreds of immigrants to elude detention. Schaaf said Tuesday the city would "continue to inform all residents about their constitutional rights."

The California laws were passed in response to Trump's promises to sharply ramp up the deportation of people living in the U.S. illegally.

One prohibits employers from letting immigration agents enter worksites or view employee files without a subpoena or warrant, an effort to prevent workplace raids. Another stops local governments from contracting with for-profit companies and ICE to hold immigrants. Justice Department officials said that violates the Constitution's supremacy clause, which renders invalid state laws that conflict with federal ones.

The Supreme Court reinforced the federal government's primacy in enforcing immigration law when it blocked much of Arizona's tough 2010 immigration law on similar grounds. The high court found several key provisions undermined federal immigration law, though it upheld a provision requiring officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally.

RELATED: California Becomes ‘Sanctuary State’ As Governor Signs Bill

In this case, California "has chosen to purposefully contradict the will and responsibility of Congress to protect our homeland," Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.

Sessions, who has blamed sanctuary city policies for crime and gang violence, is set to speak Wednesday to groups representing police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, narcotics investigators and the California Highway Patrol. Only the California State Sheriffs' Association actively opposed the so-called sanctuary law.

Protesters from labor unions, Democratic Party and immigrant rights organizations planned to rally along with some state and local elected officials outside the hotel where Sessions will speak.

Becerra, who is up for election in November, said sanctuary policies increase public safety by promoting trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while allowing police resources to be used to fight other crimes.

"We're in the business of public safety, not deportation," he said.

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