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.
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Although California can’t do much to block the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, opponents in the “Resistance State” keep finding ways to chip away at their foundations.
The latest: pushing the state and its Democratic leaders to cancel business deals with, investments in, and campaign donations from private companies with federal immigration contracts.
- A group of K-12 teachers is urging their retirement system to divest from GEO Group, CoreCivic and General Dynamics.
- Some University of California students and workers are pressing UC to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The company helps the UC system administer a placement test for incoming first-year students.
- Politicians and the state Democratic Party are shedding donations from CoreCivic, operator of private prisons and detention facilities.
“I don’t think we should profit off of the lives of other people,” said Adrianna Betti, one of hundreds of teachers who are urging CalSTRS, the organization responsible for the pensions of California K-12 teachers, to divest from the private prison companies. “The concept that I’m going to retire off of this type of money, it bothers me immensely.”
Betti told a recent CalSTRS investment meeting that the organization needs to provide more transparency about its portfolio and realize they are making moral choices with their dollars.
“Nobody with a moral lens would have made this decision ever,” she said.
Amid public outcry last month, President Donald Trump backed off of his initial policy of separating undocumented parents from their children at the border. “So we’re keeping families together, and this will solve that problem,” he said. “At the same time, we are keeping a very powerful border and it continues to be a zero-tolerance. We have zero tolerance for people that enter our country illegally.”
Over 1,800 children have been reunited with family after being separated at the border, but over 700 still remain separated—and some of those may be in California.
The state—which Trump branded “out of control” in its immigration defiance—passed a trio of laws last year designed to make California a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants who don’t commit serious crimes. Although the Trump administration sued to have the laws overturned, it has not yet been successful.
But the emotional family separations posed a particular frustration in Democrat-dominated California. Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined 17 other states in contesting the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy last month, arguing in the complaint that family separation is causing severe trauma that state resources will be strained to address.
The federal government “does have the right to decide how to conduct immigration processes. They’ve done a very poor job obviously. Very harshly,” Becerra said on KQED earlier this month. “We are more limited there in what we can do as far as allowing these kids to be free.”
One move the state could make: divestment. It’s a tactic that various activists have proposed against gun manufacturers, tobacco companies and fossil fuel firms. Successes include the UC divestment effort in the 1980s against South Africa, which Nelson Mandela credited with helping bring an end to the racist apartheid regime.
CalSTRS said it is determining potential risk factors the private prison companies may pose to pensions. At its meeting, investment committee chairman Harry Keiley said he’s asked the chief investment officer to update the board on the issue by September.
CoreCivic said in a statement that none of its facilities provide housing for children who aren’t under the supervision of a parent, adding, “We also do not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in an individual’s deportation or release.”
“We are proud that for over the past 30 years we have assisted both Democrat and Republican administrations across the country as they address a myriad of public policy challenges,” said company spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. “CoreCivic has a strong commitment to caring for each person respectfully and humanely.”
Other educators are urging the UC system to sever ties with General Dynamics Information Technology. The University Council-AFT, the labor union that represents librarians, lecturers and other university faculty members, sent such a letter to UC president Janet Napolitano in June, who received a similar letter from the Council of UC Faculty Associations, the umbrella organization that represents the different faculty associations at each campus.
The University of California Student Association, an organization that represents students across UC campuses is also pressing the UC system to end its contract. “To work with a company actively taking part in the state sanctioned violence of separating families seeking asylum, and profiting from it is to be complicit in the inhumanity of their actions,” the association said in a letter to the president.
“This is still happening and they’re not doing as much as they could,” said Stephanie Luna-Lopez, a third-year student at UC Berkeley and associate chief of community development for the Associated Students University of California, the student association for UC Berkeley. “We actually cannot do anything because it’s out of our control.”
Napolitano contends that UC has contracted with the company for years, that it assured her they were providing case work for unaccompanied minors to facilitate reuniting families, and that breaking ties would be “detrimental” and “disruptive.”
(Although she presided over significant deportations as head of Homeland Security in the Obama administration, Napolitano has denounced Trump’s separation policy.)
General Dynamics Information Technology has worked with the Office of Refugee Resettlement since 2000, providing casework support for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It says it has no role in the family separation policy, but facilitates reunifications.
Democratic legislators and the Democratic Party have, since Jan. 1 of 2017, collected some $250,000 from private prison companies that incarcerate undocumented immigrants. Now they’re distancing themselves.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon tweeted last month he would donate campaign money received from CoreCivic to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which works with formerly incarcerated people to reform the justice system.
And after CALmatters noted that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom received private prison money in his campaign for governor, an aide said Newsom donated $5,000 to the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Families Belong Together project, which protests Trump’s immigration policies.
The California Democratic Party has also announced it will no longer accept contributions from organizations that run private prisons or other incarceration services.
“The private prison system represents so much of what is wrong with our criminal justice system,” said CDP chair Eric C. Bauman in a statement. “Accepting donations from companies that profit from the systemic injustices and suffering that results from them is incompatible with the values and platform of our Party.”
- Pension divestment, by Frank Schetter, Sacramento on Oct. 5, 2018
An Orange County Superior Court judge has ruled that California’s “sanctuary state law” conflicts with Huntington Beach’s rights as a charter city, throwing some protections for undocumented immigrants into question in 120 cities throughout the state.
Senate Bill 54 or the California Values Act, authored by state Sen. Kevin de León, a Los Angeles Democrat who is challenging incumbent U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, doesn’t actually make California a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Rather, it puts limits on the amount of work state and local government officials can do to expedite ICE enforcement.
Though many California cities support the law, arguing it makes immigrant communities less afraid to report crimes and promotes trust in local institutions, dozens of other municipalities have adopted resolutions opposing it in principle. Huntington Beach, in coastal Orange County, was the first to take its challenge to court.
Judge James Crandall did not issue a legal opinion about the case, but granted a writ of mandate, ruling that the state cannot enforce its sanctuary law there, based on Huntington Beach’s status as a charter city.
Charter cities are organized under their own municipal codes, rather than under the state’s general law. One hundred twenty-one of California’s 482 cities share the designation, including Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Jose, San Diego and San Francisco.
Lawyers for Huntington Beach argued that the state sanctuary law intruded on the city’s local control.
“Huntington Beach is saying, ‘If we want to volunteer to go above and beyond to help immigration officials, we should be able to do that.’ Under SB 54 they can’t,” said immigration law expert Jean Reisz at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law.
It’s unclear how the judge’s decision will affect other charter cities, or whether it will inspire more legal opposition.
“It certainly could apply to all of them, but this is an injunction to keep the state from enforcing this law against Huntington Beach, not all charter cities,” Reisz said.
The state Attorney General’s office is expected to appeal.
“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in an email. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”
The ruling is separate from the federal lawsuit challenge filed last year by the Department of Justice to the sanctuary laws, which are actually made up of three pieces of legislation. A U.S. District Judge struck down one of the three, pertaining to business owners’ interactions with immigration authorities, but upheld the other two, including SB 54.
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education’s delay of rules meant to protect student loan borrowers from predatory practices was “arbitrary and capricious,” granting a legal victory to the state of California and borrowers who say their colleges defrauded them.
If upheld, the ruling could make it easier for students like the tens of thousands of Californians left in the lurch when for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges abruptly closed its doors to recoup their investments.
Corinthian’s 2015 collapse prompted the Obama Administration to issue new rules the following year allowing groups of students to apply for federal loan forgiveness en masse if their college closed, misled them or broke the law. The so-called “borrower defense rules” were hailed by consumer advocates and criticized by representatives of the for-profit college industry, who said they would put small vocational schools out of business.
The Trump administration has repeatedly pushed back implementation of the rules, and in August proposed a new plan that would make each individual borrower prove that their college knowingly lied to them in order to have loans discharged.
But Judge Randolph S. Moss agreed with the complaint filed by a pair of student borrowers, joined by the attorney generals of 19 states including California, that the department illegally “failed to offer a reasoned basis” for the shift in policy. The two sides are scheduled to meet in court Friday to discuss remedies in the case.
“This is a big win for students in California and the nation who were cheated of a quality education,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of student loan borrowers.
The Department of Education did not reply to requests for comment late today.
Track all of California’s lawsuits against the Trump administration here.
California’s push to pass the nation’s strongest net neutrality protections—and bring back Obama-era rules undone by the Trump administration—advanced today, one step in a high-stakes tech battle that’s being waged from here to Washington.
The bill by Democratic Sens. Scott Wiener and Kevin de Léon survived intense negotiations to pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly with overwhelming support by a vote of 61 to 18. It goes back to the Senate for a final vote before the legislative session ends Friday. If passed, it would prohibit internet service providers from slowing or speeding content based on preference or extra payment.
“The core premise of net neutrality is that we get to decide where we go on the internet, as opposed to telecom and cable companies telling us where to go,” Wiener said in a statement.
SB 822 aims to protect an open internet by replacing the Trump administration’s repeal of federal protections established during the Obama administration in 2015. It is considered the strongest set of net neutrality provisions since Obama’s were rolled back in June, and would be enforced by California’s attorney general.
Wiener and de Léon’s proposal would ban internet companies from charging businesses access fees in order to reach its online customers. It would also prohibit “zero rating,” a practice in which providers charge consumers for accessing their competitors’ content, but provide a free data incentive for accessing their own content.
Republican opponents of the bill slammed it as an overreach that meddles with a free market, creates a regulatory patchwork and invites litigation. Advocates, meanwhile, argued that such protections prevent internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, from throttling internet speeds and creating so-called “fast lane” access.
Net neutrality proponents include not just technology companies such as Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook, but also the Writers Guild of America and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The bill garnered national attention as it moved through the Legislature earlier this year. Facing strong opposition from internet companies and Republican legislators, Democrats anticipated a legal challenge as the state measure advanced.
In committee, the bill was heavily amended by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat. In response, Wiener almost withdrew his “hijacked” bill, which he said had been stripped of all its key protections.
But in July, the bill’s original provisions were restored and lawmakers reached an agreement to advance it together. Santiago eventually came around and joined as principal coauthor.
“This bill is about value,” Santiago said. “The question before us is, do you believe in a free and open internet?”
On the floor, Republican leaders charged regulation should be left to the feds. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, said the issue will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the state will lose. Other opponents argued it will chill the tech industry and result in a less robust market for consumers.
“The worst possible thing we can do is to create 50 different state FCCs,” Patterson argued. “If you are really interested, the place to have this fleshed out is the federal level with federal elections and accountability. It takes several steps way too far.”
“You’re wading into an area where you have no business in,” echoed Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore Republican. “This is embarrassing.”
Lobbying was intense as Thursday’s vote neared. A group affiliated to AT&T was reportedly using robocalls to send out automated messages claiming the law would raise consumer cell phone bills. Earlier this month, Verizon was widely criticized for allegedly throttling data speeds for the Santa Clara County Fire Department during the Mendocino Complex fire, a complaint the company denied.
Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society, says public pressure clearly helped secure Assembly approval.
“While it seems like getting net neutrality passed in California should be simple, the reality is that AT&T is incredibly powerful in California’s legislature—which was made clear when the bill was gutted in committee in June,” Singel said in an email.
In recent months, more than 20 states have introduced bills aiming to restore the federal net neutrality protections. Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation.
Meanwhile, the fight on the federal front is far from over. Tech groups including Amazon, Facebook and the Internet Association this month filed briefs with the federal appeals court supporting a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission to bring back net neutrality.