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California’s ‘Sanctuary State’ Laws Withstand Federal Suit

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, left, and Gov. Jerry Brown. Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

DOJ did manage to block a provision in one preventing employers from reverifying employee immigration status.

A federal judge on Thursday denied the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to block California’s “sanctuary state” law.

The state can decide for itself whether or not to help the federal government “implement its immigration enforcement regime,” wrote Judge John Mendez in his order.

Among other non-cooperation policies, California Senate Bill 54 prohibits state and local law enforcement from holding undocumented immigrants in accordance with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer requests, unless the person has been convicted of one of 31 crimes or is a registered sex offender. Otherwise, a federal warrant is required.

The law further prevents police agencies from inquiring about a person’s immigration status or sharing information with ICE other than that which is publicly available.

Mendez additionally denied a preliminary injunction against California Assembly Bill 103—which grants state Attorney General Xavier Becerra the authority to monitor federal immigration detention facilities—on the grounds the burden is minimal and they shouldn’t be treated differently than at other lockups.

The judge did block the state from enforcing in its entirety AB 450, which fines employers up to $5,000 for voluntarily granting federal immigration enforcement agents access to nonpublic areas where employees are present. Mendez found the law’s prohibition against employers reverifying their employees’ eligibility could be used as an excuse to knowingly employ undocumented immigrants.

Davin O’Malley, a DOJ spokesman, heralded the preliminary injunction of that law as a “major victory for private employers in California who are no longer prevented from cooperating with legitimate enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.”

“While we are disappointed that California’s other laws designed to protect criminal aliens were not yet halted, the Justice Department will continue to seek out and fight unjust policies that threaten public safety,” O’Malley added in a statement.

DOJ sued California in March, arguing the three state laws hinder the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration law.

The DOJ and various jurisdictions have been litigating sanctuary laws across the country, including on the issue of whether the federal government can punish cities or states by restricting access to federal grants.

The agency scored a victory late last month, when a federal district court ruling—barring DOJ from withholding law enforcement grants from sanctuary cities—was limited to Chicago, the city in question, pending a full appeals court review. Earlier in June, a federal district court judge found the Trump administration’s effort to similarly deny Philadelphia $1.5 million unconstitutional.

Mendez noted in his order a long-term immigration solution can only come from the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

“Accordingly, this Court joins the ever-growing chorus of Federal Judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bi-partisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue,” he wrote. “Our Nation deserves it. Our Constitution demands it.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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