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Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

Between Sacramento and Washington D.C. sits the rest of the country, and a chasm. On immigration and taxes, guns and healthcare, cannabis and climate change, California is the federal government’s equal and opposite reaction. One year into President Trump’s first term, the push and pull continues—playing out under the Capitol dome, in the courts and on Twitter.

Ready for another year? Follow along here.

Resistance State: California in the Age of Trump

The Orange County anti-sanctuary uprising takes the national stage today, as a coalition of politicians are in Washington to talk Republican political strategy with President Trump.

It’s a big day for these conservative California politicos, who come from a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2 to 1 in the Legislature and the GOP voice has been largely muted. About a dozen of them were invited to attend an afternoon meeting in Washington with Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and ICE director Thomas Homan.

They’re gathering to discuss how to attack California’s sanctuary law passed last year that places some limits on cooperation with federal immigration information requests.

Dozens of cities and counties across California have passed resolutions or joined a federal lawsuit opposing that law, with the epicenter of that opposition in Orange County. It began with the small city of Los Alamitos, which passed a local ordinance that breaks state law. Other cities haven’t gone that far, but at least 13 of the 34 cities in Orange County have joined the resistance with statements of support. And the county board of supervisors voted to join the federal lawsuit against three California sanctuary laws.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel is part of the group meeting with the President, and so is the mayor of Los Alamitos, Troy Edgar. In an email, Edgar outlined what he hopes to discuss with Trump:

“First, I plan to thank him for our mutual interest in upholding the Constitution and I look forward to contributing to this dialogue on sanctuary and immigration law and policies,” Edgar said. He also hopes to get some financial help in fighting a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against Los Alamitos’ ordinance, and any impending lawsuit that might be brought by the state of California.

“There will continue to be a significant price that comes with beginning this revolt in California,” Edgar said. “Any assistance that our city can be provided by direct or indirect funding would be appreciated.”

By early afternoon, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown weighed in:

Opposition to the sanctuary law is one of the few issues where Republicans have found a little political traction in California, and they plan to make immigration one of their cornerstone issues in the upcoming midterm elections.

The GOP faces an uphill battle for voters in California. They actually come in third in percentage of the state’s voters—with just 25.9 percent of registered voters, the Republicans not only trail the Democrats’ 44. percent but also are outnumbered by 29.4 percent of independent voters who choose no-party or other party affiliations.

According to Politico, the anti-sanctuary contingent includes Steel, Edgar, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar, Riverside County Assembly member Melissa Melendez, and Los Alamitos City Council member Warren Kusumoto, along with some municipal and law enforcement officials.

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July 9, 2018 9:20 pm

California’s gone without higher ed affirmative action since 1996. Black enrollment at top UCs never recovered.

Higher Education Reporter
Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Photo by Prayitno Photography via Flickr
Royce Hall on the UCLA campus. Photo by Prayitno Photography via Flickr

While the Trump administration caused a stir last week when it reversed Obama-era policies encouraging universities to consider racial diversity in admissions, reaction in California was muted. That’s because California’s public universities have been banned from using race in admissions decisions since voters passed Proposition 209 in 1996.

The percentage of African-American, Latino and Native American freshmen enrolling at the University of California dropped sharply after the proposition went into effect, especially at UC’s most selective campuses, Berkeley and UCLA.

Just as striking was the impact on applications—fewer students in those groups were bothering to even apply, a university report found.

“I offer California as a cautionary tale to the rest of the nation,” then-UC President Richard Atkinson wrote in a 2003 Washington Post op-ed. “Our experience to date shows that if race cannot be factored into admissions decisions at all, the ethnic diversity of an elite public institution such as the University of California may fall well behind that of the state it serves.”

Latino enrollment has since rebounded at UC Berkeley and UCLA, due in part to demographic changes in the state. (More than half of California’s public high school graduates are Latino.) But it’s still not proportional to that group’s share of the state population.

Meanwhile, black student enrollment at those campuses never recovered. More than 6 percent of incoming UC Berkeley freshmen were African-American in 1995. In 2017, less than 3 percent were.

Four years ago, the Legislature considered asking voters to overturn just part of Prop. 209, but abandoned the idea after several Asian-American groups joined Republicans in opposing it, and waged vigorous protests against it. They argued that in California, re-instating affirmative action provisions in state university admissions would disadvantage Asian-Americans, who make up a plurality of the student body at some UC campuses.

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July 5, 2018 1:58 pm

Judge rules against Trump, for California sanctuary laws—with one exception

Contributing Writer
Supporters of California's sanctuary laws demonstrate at the federal courthouse in Sacramento. Photo by Robbie Short for CALmatters
Supporters of California’s sanctuary laws demonstrate at the federal courthouse in Sacramento. Photo by Robbie Short for CALmatters

A federal judge today ruled against the Trump administration’s attempt to immediately halt California’s so-called sanctuary laws—with one exception affecting employers.

Judge John Mendez, in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, denied a request by the federal Department of Justice for a preliminary injunction against California laws that limit cooperation with immigration enforcement officials.

The centerpiece of the three laws stands. It doesn’t literally make California a “sanctuary” for immigrants, but does place limits on the level of work state and local government officials can do to expedite ICE enforcement. A second law places limits on expansion of detention facilities in California, and requires inspection of those facilities by the state.

The judge did, however, grant the federal government’s request to block full enforcement by California of the third law, which said the state can fine employers for giving access to immigration agents without notifying employees first. Under the ruling, employers can still warn employees of impending ICE compliance checks, but will not face state fines if they allow federal agents to enter workplaces without a warrant. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra had announced in January that his office would go after employers who share information about workers in contradiction of the new law and they could face prosecution, including fines of up to $10,000. This ruling puts a damper on that effort.

Judge Mendez’s ruling seemed sympathetic to business owners caught between federal and state authorities. Owners in immigrant-heavy industries, such as hospitality and agriculture, say they’ve been caught between the federal escalation of anti-immigration efforts and the sanctuary laws; they haven’t known which to follow.

The Trump administration had sued California in March over all three laws that took effect Jan. 1. They’re intended to protect undocumented immigrants from being set on a path to deportation after interactions with local police, unless they have committed a serious or violent crime. The U.S. Department of Justice says the statutes are unconstitutional.

Becerra contends the laws do not conflict with the U.S. Constitution but, rather, act in concert with it. Not everyone in California agrees.

Dozens of local governments say the feds are right and have rebelled by passing resolutions against the sanctuary policy, signing onto the federal lawsuit or suing the state directly. The city council in the small Southern California city of Los Alamitos voted not to comply.

In today’s ruling for California, Judge Mendez said the Trump administration failed to confront California’s primary concern: that total state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement would make Californians not more safe, but less. “The historic police powers of the State include the suppression of violent crime and preservation of community safety,” the judge wrote, going on to add that the “ebb of tensions between communities and the police underscores the delicate nature of this relationship. Even perceived collaboration with immigration enforcement could upset the balance California aims to achieve.”

The overall ruling was a big victory for California, according to University of South California law professor Jean Reisz, who said even the small exception the judge granted to the feds was a sign that the California laws likely will survive the federal challenge.

Other recent rulings that went the federal government’s way, such as U.S. Supreme Court approval of the Trump administration’s travel ban, “were more about states interfering and imposing themselves in a federal arena,” Reisz said. Likewise, California’s bid to impose fines on business owners who want to honor federal agents’ requests to enter workplaces without a warrant was construed by Judge Mendez as state interference. But Reisz noted that’s not the case with California’s centerpiece sanctuary law—the one that has sparked so much controversy.

When state officials decline to provide a release date or a home address to immigration officials, she said, that isn’t “imposing” on federal law: “The distinction is: California is stepping aside, it’s not getting in ICE’s way. I mean, stepping aside is not helping—but is that interfering?”

Mendez cautioned that the debate is not over with this ruling.

“There is no place for politics in our judicial system, and this one opinion will neither define nor solve the complicated immigration issues currently facing our Nation,” he wrote. He added that he had reached his decision without concern for political consequences, a luxury the other two branches of government lack. “But if there is going to be a long-term solution to the problems our country faces with respect to immigration policy, it can only come from our legislative and executive branches. It cannot and will not come from piecemeal opinions issued by the judicial branch.”

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June 26, 2018 6:55 pm

Executive order or not, California sues over family separations

Contributing Writer
A guard escorts an immigrant detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility, the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in California.

Yes, California is suing the Trump administration again—co-leading a coalition of 17 state attorneys general who are contesting the “zero-tolerance” practice of separating young children from their undocumented parents at the border.

But wasn’t it just one week ago that Trump signed an executive order to reverse that practice? Why sue now?

Among the reasons: The executive order did not require that roughly 2,300 children be returned to their parents, and it did not directly state the practice will end.

“President Trump’s Executive Order says nothing about reuniting families, has no impact on the thousands of families who have already been traumatized, and is so vague and equivocal that it is unclear when or if any changes will actually be made,” said the joint statement released today by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and leaders from the other states and the District of Columbia.

And in a separate case, a federal judge in San Diego later in the day issued a preliminary junction ordering the Trump administration to reunite any of the affected families within at least 30 days. In that case, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the judge rebuked  the administration’s policy. He noted that “the facts set forth before the court portray reactive governance — responses to address a chaotic circumstance of the government’s own making. They belie measured and ordered governance, which is central to the concept of due process enshrined in our Constitution.”

Niels Frenzen, a USC professor specializing in immigration law, said the main issue with the executive order the president signed June 10 is that it’s not a definitive order.

“It doesn’t actually prohibit separation,” Frenzen said. “It has a number of exceptions, so you could still have families separated. And of course, the children who have already been separated from their parents, that’s a big problem.”

Federal officials have promised that any parents who agree to be deported will get their children back.

The U.S. Justice Department argued in court that its reunification procedures should be given time to work, and that they were necessary to enforce immigration law and protect children from endangerment by smugglers or by parents risking their safety by bringing them into the country illegally. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it had a process “to ensure that family members know the location of their children and have regular communication after separation to ensure that those adults who are subject to removal are reunited with their children for the purposes of removal.”

But Alex Azar, head of the federal Health and Human Services agency in charge of the children, said parents who insisted on filing a claim for asylum would remain in detention—and since there’s a 20-day limit for children’s detention, they couldn’t stay with their parents.

That didn’t sit well with California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein: “The administration is holding children hostage to push parents to drop their asylum claims,” she said in a tweet.

There’s not much California can directly do about it, Frenzen said, outside of pursuing legal action.

One California law passed last year requires state inspections of all non-citizen detention centers—but that law could not include federal facilities. Likely as a result, federal officials chose to detain undocumented immigrants in California in the medium-security federal penitentiary in Victorville to detain immigrants in California, Frenzen said. That law also restricts expansion of city and county detention centers, but has no jurisdiction over private, for-profit facilities, so he doesn’t expect federal officials to reach the limits of detention capacity in the long term.

Frenzen said it’s against international law to deter asylum seekers, and it’s also a violation of U.S. immigration law, “because people do have a right to present themselves and seek asylum at a border crossing.”

Members of the Trump administration have defended their approach. The president himself said today that he has inherited the worst immigration system in the world. And as critics have ratcheted up their condemnation, his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, fired back.

Addressing the conservative Criminal Justice Legal Foundation today in downtown Los Angeles, Sessions had plenty to say about the protesters gathered outside the hotel, and about California lawmakers.

“The rhetoric we hear from the other side on this issue—as on so many others—has become radicalized,” he said. “We hear views on television today that are on the lunatic fringe, frankly.”

California’s Democratic Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted that he wouldn’t keep donations from a company that runs for-profit detention centers in California: “Upon learning the role that Core Civic is playing in the detention of children separated from their parents by ICE, I directed my campaign to donate any donations I received from Core Civic to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.”

Recipients of the company’s donation include the Democratic Party, candidate for governor Gavin Newsom and many other politicians.

Learn about all of California lawsuits against the Trump administration with our tracking tool. 

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