A nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics

Trump v California

In this corner: Immigration

For basic background, start with The weigh-in: Immigration

Border Enforcement
All talk, no action—yet
It's on!
On the ropes
California wins!
Trump wins!

California AG asks Trump to spare 'DREAMers' brought to US as children

published Jul 21, 2017

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Photo by Steve Yeater for CALmatters

Asking President Trump to fulfill his commitment to so-called “DREAMers,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and 19 other states’ chief law enforcement officers issued a letter today urging him to save a program that protects nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation.

During the campaign, Trump vowed to end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but he’s softened his position since taking office, calling the DACA program’s recipients “incredible kids” who should “rest easy” because they’re not priorities for deportation.

More than a quarter of the five-year-old program’s participants are from California.

“Donald Trump says we should treat DACA grantees ‘with heart’ – and I agree,” Becerra said in a statement. “Instead of frightening kids, we should empower them to fulfill their potential.”

According to the letter, the program has opened doors to college and boosted young immigrants’ purchasing power.

The letter also implores the President not to “capitulate” to a 10-state coalition of Republican officials who have threatened to sue if the program isn’t phased out by September and even asks him to defend it in court should a fresh legal challenge arise.

“We urge you to affirm America’s values and tradition as a nation of immigrants and make clear that you will not only continue DACA, but that you will defend it,” the letter states. “The cost of not doing so would be too high for America, the economy and for those young people.”

Other signatories include attorneys general from: Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Washington, D.C.

California lawmakers OK a $1 million review of immigration detention centers

published Jul 6, 2017

California has approved a plan to spend $1 million to review immigration detention centers and local holding centers that house undocumented immigrants for the federal government and prohibits local jurisdictions from expanding their holding contracts or starting new agreements with federal immigration agencies.

State lawmakers added the provisions to the state budget a few days before it was approved in June. The move is the latest in the Legislature’s attempt to push back on the Trump administration’s promise to crack down on immigration and increase deportations.

The state Attorney General’s office will oversee the review of the holding centers to ensure that detainees are being held in adequate conditions and have access to things like food, doctors, and lawyers as well as humane treatment. The office also received $6.5 million to respond to actions taken at the federal level across several areas including health, immigration, education and public safety.

“California will stand up even if some other parts of the country won’t,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a press conference in San Francisco last month. “We have a right—in fact, we have an obligation—to make sure the people are afforded the treatment and respect that any of us would expect under the law.”

A report on the conditions is due to the legislature in 2019.

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

There are nine immigration detention centers in California, one of which is privately run. Immigrants are often also held at local jails for the federal government, which pays to use the beds there.

Local cities, counties and law enforcement agencies that already hold immigrants for the federal government will not be able to expand their contracts or offer more space to the federal agency. In addition, jurisdictions that do not already have contracts in place will not be able to enter into one under the budget agreement.

The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency told the Los Angeles Times that it would not comment on the policy, but that it would mean the agency would have to transfer detainees out of the state. Thomas Homan, ICE’s acting director, told the U.S. House Appropriations subcommittee that those who are in the country illegally and who “committed a crime by entering this country, you should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder, and you need to be worried.”

The state response was inspired by a report that found detainees held in Orange County were served spoiled food and living in inadequate conditions and the nine deaths reported at a private facility in San Bernardino.

In addition, Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, is pushing a bill through the legislature that would prevent cities from contracting with private detention facilities. That legislation was approved by the Senate and has gone to the Assembly.


Border wall prototypes to go up this summer in San Diego

published Jun 28, 2017

Hundreds of companies have submitted bids on building prototypes of President Trump’s Mexico border wall in San Diego—although no contracts have been awarded yet for the project that was supposed to begin this month, according to federal reports obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the prototypes will be done by September in Otay Mesa. Congress has not yet approved funding for the full wall, but it did approve $20 million for the prototypes, taken from funds set aside for mobile video surveillance.

About a third of the miles along the border are already fortified with walls and barriers and it’s unclear of the new Trump wall will build around what is already standing or if it will tear down and replace.

The project will include four to eight 30-foot tall walls that will be built in 30 days. The prototype walls must also be unable to be climbed and must prevent digging underneath to a depth of at least 6 feet. The agency said the prototypes could stay up and act as barriers in the future.

While it’s a win for Trump if this begins soon, California lawmakers are considering legislation that would punish those who build the wall by prohibiting them from doing business with the state of California and by requiring state pension funds to divest from those companies.

Critics of the president’s plan say there hasn’t been enough information released about the cost and the environmental impact along the border. Two pending lawsuits attempt to extract more information about the wall—including its construction schedule, analysis of eminent domain, environmental impact and what will happen related to the Tohono O’odham Nation.

Trump’s 2018 budget sets aside $3.6 billion for the border wall.

Trump's proposed budget would ratchet up sanctuary city battle

published May 24, 2017

Buried below hundreds of pages of tables, figures, and charts, President Trump’s proposed budget includes a surprise revision of immigration law that would mark a major escalation in the legal standoff between the federal government and the Golden State over “sanctuary” jurisdictions.

At the bottom of a lengthy appendix to the budget released this week by the White House are a few paragraphs of fine print that would expand the definition of sanctuary jurisdiction and give the federal government new tools to punish cities, counties and states that do not comply with the new rules.

One proposed change would outlaw state and local rules that ban law enforcement agencies from holding suspected undocumented immigrants in custody at the request of federal authorities.

Additional language would bar local and state laws that restrict police and sheriff officers from sharing “relevant” information about an immigrant detainee’s “nationality, citizenship, immigration status, removability, scheduled release date and time, home address, work address or contact information” with the federal government.

The budget would also give the federal government a new enforcement mechanism: the ability to cutoff of federal funds. Federal grants relating to immigration, criminal justice, national security and terrorism could hinge on a jurisdiction’s willingness to cooperate with federal authorities.

The California Trust Act currently prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from keeping non-felons behind bars solely at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Advocates for immigrants and some law enforcement agencies say that requiring police and sheriffs to help in such matters could discourage members of immigrant communities from cooperating with law enforcement and could put those departments in legal jeopardy.

Opponents of the Trust Act and other sanctuary policies argue that local law enforcement agencies should not be barred from working with their federal counterparts.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera of San Francisco, a sanctuary city, said in a statement that the Trump administration was “trying to sneak major changes in the law through the back door because they cannot get them through the front.”


Governor proposes deportation defense—courtesy of California

published May 11, 2017

For the first time ever, the proposed state budget includes millions of dollars to help undocumented immigrants fight deportation.

This comes at a time of heightened fear in immigrant communities over recent raids and increased immigration enforcement under President Trump that appear to be going beyond just individuals convicted of crimes.

Gov. Brown’s revised budget, released today, allocates an additional $15 million—for a total of $30 million—to help cover the cost of immigration-related legal services including, for the first time, deportation defense.

According to Brown’s budget office, the first half of the funding includes contracts and grants for nonprofits that provide services for those seeking naturalization,  deferred action and other legal remedies. The additional funds are to bolster those services, as well as to provide help for immigrants facing deportation. The budget also includes $3 million to provide unaccompanied undocumented minors with legal counsel.ICE agents taking someone into custody

“It’s one of those things that makes an incredible difference for an attorney to represent you in a deportation case,” said Daisy Vieyra, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of California.“This is a really heartening signal from Governor Brown’s administration, that he sees the value in providing a service like this.”

In recent years, the state has provided $15 million annually for naturalization and deferred-action legal help for immigrants brought to the country as children. Last year it provided a total of $30 million for these services plus $3 million for legal help for unaccompanied minors.

“We know the need is going to be really high and this is where California can make a difference,” Vieyra said. “it’s about all immigrants and given the federal government’s new outlook on immigration it could make an incredible difference in California.”

President Trump has focused on immigration and deportation since his campaign. “You see what’s happening at the border, all of a sudden for the first time, we’re getting gang members out, we’re getting drug lords out. We’re getting really bad dudes out of this country, and at a rate that nobody’s ever seen before,” Trump said after his first month in office. “And they’re the bad ones. And it’s a military operation, because what has been allowed to come into our country when you see gang violence that you’ve read about like never before, and all of the things, much of that is people that are here illegally. And they are rough, and they’re tough, but they’re not tough like our people. So we are getting them out.” Politifact labeled those comments “partially accurate.”

California continues to push back.

“Legal counsel in deportation proceedings is the last line of defense to prevent the permanent exile of immigrants that are deeply rooted in our lives and communities,” Laura Polstein, an attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza, said in a statement.

Today the majority of immigrants facing deportation lack legal representation. A study by The California Coalition for Universal Representation found that undocumented immigrants who have legal representation are five times more successful in winning their cases than those who do not have lawyers.

Vieyra said immigration advocates would still like to see a total of $30 million solely for deportation defense in the future.*

Proposed legislation that aim to get funds for deportation include:

  • SB 6,  by Democratic Sen. Ben Hueso of San Diego, asks for $12 million in funds for defense.
  • AB 386, by Democrat Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego, seeks funding to provide representation to veterans who have been deported.

The governor’s revised budget also includes $6.5 million more for the state Justice Department to provide for additional work and manpower to challenge the federal government on issues such as the Trump administration’s threatened retaliation against sanctuary cities.

* (Note: An earlier version of the story stated that immigration advocates want an additional $30 million for deportation defense. It’s been corrected to reflect Vieyra’s observation that they actually desire a total of $30 million for this.)

Federal judge thwarts attempt by Trump to punish 'sanctuaries'

published Apr 25, 2017

A federal judge today blocked President Trump’s executive order that would have kept federal funds from flowing to municipalities that consider themselves sanctuary cities for undocumented immigrants.

San Francisco U.S. District Judge William Orrick III said the order is too broad, could bring “immediate irreparable harm” and could be challenged and most likely proven unconstitutional.

The preliminary injunction comes just days after the Justice Department threatened to stop funding for so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, including the state of California, if they did not prove they are cooperating with the federal immigration enforcement in finding and detaining undocumented immigrants.

Orrick, an Obama appointee, wrote that the Justice Department can withhold grants from cities or counties, but is prohibited from “violating the constitution” in its efforts to get compliance. He said there was a strong case that the executive order effectively commandeers local law enforcement resources without clearly defining what is required in order for jurisdictions to comply with the law.

The administration says cities and states, including many California jurisdictions, that act as sanctuaries are thwarting the law. It contends cooperation is vital to keep the country safe.

The move is being seen as another blow to Trump’s attempt to pressure regions through his executive order on immigration enforcement. The city of San Francisco and Santa Clara County argued that the threat of de-funding made it hard to plan their county budget. Other cities have also sued including Seattle and two cities in Massachusetts.

According to the state Attorney General’s office the order only applies to three Justice Department and Homeland Security Department grants.

Orrick ruled that the order, “by its plain language, attempts to reach all federal grants, not merely the three mentioned at the hearing.” He went on to say, “The rest of the order is broader still, addressing all federal funding. And if there was doubt about that scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments.”

Trump demands proof California's cooperating on immigration—or else

published Apr 21, 2017

Following through on a pledge to undermine so-called sanctuary cities, the Trump administration today demanded that nine jurisdictions provide proof that they’re cooperating with immigration enforcement—or risk losing some federal grants.

The California Board of State and Community Corrections received one of the U.S. Justice Department’s letters. Others went to officials in Cook County, Ill., Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

President Trump has repeatedly threatened to cut all federal funding for sanctuary cities, but the Los Angeles Times reports it’s doubtful that Congress would go along with such an aggressive punishment. So far, the administration has only proposed cutting off cities’ Justice Department grants, meaning the $20 million the California Board of State and Community Corrections received last year and shared with counties and the state prison agency could be withheld.

Protesters in Los Angles carry a banner that reads “No human being is illegal.” Photo by Jonathan McIntosh

California officials are railing against the letters.

“It has become abundantly clear” that U.S. Attorney General Jeff sessions and the Trump administration “are basing their law enforcement policies on principles of white supremacy – not American values,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon said in a statement. De Leon is the author of Senate Bill 54, which would declare California a sanctuary state.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement accusing the administration of threatening public safety, and he vowed to defend the state’s policies. “Federal threats to take away resources from law enforcement or our people in an attempt to bully states and localities into carrying out the new administration’s unsound deportation plan are reckless and jeopardize public safety,” he said.

Both Becerra and Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Session are appearing Sunday morning on ABC’s “This Week” to talk about immigration policy.

The U.S. Justice Department has asked the jurisdictions to respond to the letters in writing and document their cooperation with immigration officials by June 30.

Most Californians concerned about undocumented students; two-thirds want schools to be sanctuaries

published Apr 20, 2017

As feds consider loosening immigration detention standards, California may step in

published Apr 14, 2017

As California lawmakers consider beefing up regulations for immigration detention facilities within the state, the Trump administration appears to be heading in the opposite direction.

Currently, when federal immigration authorities rent out bed space in local or privately-run jails, they require those facilities to abide by a certain set of rules. Those rules dictate how detainees should be treated; how health, safety, and legal complaints should be addressed; and how the facilities should be operated.

But the New York Times reported today:

(As) the Trump administration seeks to quickly find jail space for its crackdown on illegal immigration, it is moving to curtail these rules as a way to entice more sheriffs and local officials to make their correctional facilities available. According to two Homeland Security officials who had knowledge of the plans but declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, new jail contracts will contain a far less detailed set of regulations.

A state bill working its way through the Legislature by Sen. Ricardo Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, would incorporate the federal rules into state law.

Opponents of the bill have argued that such a reform is unnecessary because the Department of Homeland Security already enforces these standards with its partner facilities. Lara and other supporters of the bill counter that incorporating these existing standards into state law would provide teeth to rules that are insufficiently enforced.

If the federal government relaxes its contract standards, then Lara’s bill would do more than simply duplicate federal policy—it would hold California facilities at a higher standard.

You can read more about Lara’s bill and the debate over immigration detention in California here.

Trump administration suspends its weekly sanctuary jurisdiction shame list

published Apr 12, 2017

Public shaming isn’t as easy as it looks.

After issuing only three reports, the Trump administration’s plan to publish a weekly list of so-called “sanctuary” jurisdictions has been put on ice over concerns they have contained inaccurate or misleading information.

According to Department of Homeland Security spokesperson David Lapan, the federal government will not restart the program until officials can “make sure that we’re getting it as accurate as possible.”

The weekly report is a new, and perhaps short-lived, innovation of the Trump administration. In the first days of his presidency, President Trump signed an executive order calling upon the Department of Homeland Security to publish a weekly tally of jurisdictions that have “ignored or otherwise failed to honor” requests from federal immigration authorities to hold suspected undocumented immigrants on the basis of their presumed immigration status.

In its last two reports, the department singled out the state of California, as well as 36 of its 58 counties.

But the weekly detainer lists have been plagued with mistakes from the get-go. According to a series of corrections published by the Department of Homeland Security, in its first report, detainer request statistics were misattributed to “Franklin Counties” in three states, much to the consternation of officials in those identically named but otherwise very distinct jurisdictions.

Additional errors were made regarding a number of counties in Texas.

According to the president’s executive order, the weekly list was intended to “inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions.”

No corrections have been made regarding California jurisdictions, where many law enforcement agencies refuse to honor federal detainer requests out of fear of violating the state Trust Act, a law that bars state and local law enforcement officers from holding non-felons in custody solely at the request of ICE. Other agencies have expressed concern about exposing themselves to lawsuits relating to racial profiling or violations of due process.

California's "sanctuary state bill" sails through Senate

published Apr 4, 2017

California took one more step toward officially becoming a “sanctuary state” yesterday. In a party-line vote, the Senate voted 27-12 on Senate Bill 54, a law that would ban state and local law enforcement agencies from using public resources to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement.

Yesterday’s vote further escalates the standoff between California and the Trump Administration over immigration policy. Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement included the state in its weekly “Declined Detainer Outcome Report,” a list of cities, counties, and states the administration deems to be sanctuary jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angles), the author of SB 54, used his statement on the floor of the Senate yesterday as an opportunity to goad the president.

“The President needs to read up,” he said from the Senate floor. “He is wrong about immigrants and wrong about what makes our communities safer.”

Named and shamed: California makes the President's sanctuary list

published Mar 31, 2017

We already knew as much, but now it’s official: the state of California is on President Trump’s troublemaker’s list.

Today, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released its weekly tally of cities, counties, and states that have declined to turn over incarcerated undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. The federally designated scofflaw list for the first full week of February not only includes the Golden State, but 36 of the its 58 counties.

In an executive order issued in the first week of his presidency, President Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to compile and publish a list each week of all jurisdictions that have “ignored or otherwise failed to honor” requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

Unlike the first of these “Declined Detainer Outcome Reports,” which was issued earlier last month, California made the cut this time around. Why? The report points to the state’s Trust Act, a 2013 law that prohibits state and local law enforcement officers from keeping non-felons in custody solely at the request of ICE.

The weekly report also includes a national list of the 47 individuals who were released from detention facilities despite hold requests from ICE. Of these, eight were released from California facilities. Their “notable criminal activities” include domestic violence, assault, and drug possession.

In his executive order, the president explained that the weekly list was meant to “inform the public regarding the public safety threats associated with sanctuary jurisdictions.”


Amicus from the AG: Sanctuary City-by-the-Bay gets new friend-of-the-court

published Mar 29, 2017

In the case of San Francisco v. Trump, the City by the Bay just got itself a powerful new ally.

This afternoon, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief in U.S. District Court, siding with San Francisco in its lawsuit against President Trump’s executive order to defund sanctuary cities.

“California has a sovereign right and responsibility to protect the safety and the constitutional rights of its residents, including by adopting laws and policies that place appropriate limits on the ability of the federal government to use state and local resources for the enforcement of federal immigration policy,” the brief reads.

This isn’t Becerra’s first anti-Trump amicus. Last week, the state attorney general put in a good word on behalf of Santa Clara County in its own legal challenge against Trump’s executive order from last month.

Today, Seattle filed its own lawsuit against the President’s sanctuary city order as well.

Will California get defunded over its sanctuary policies? Maybe, but just a little.

published Mar 27, 2017

Finally, the other shoe drops.

For months President Trump has been threatening to defund “out of control” California and the “sanctuary cities” within its borders for policies that he considers violations of federal immigration law. These challenges from the Oval Office have raised the hackles of state Democrats, just they have raised questions among legal scholars wondering how—and to what extent—the President plans to unilaterally pull federal funds from uncooperative cities and states.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions offered an answer to those questions today.

At a press conference at the White House this morning, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would begin to consider withholding grants from so-called sanctuary cities and states.

The Trump administration defines a sanctuary jurisdiction as those that violate Title 8, section 1373 of the U.S. Code. That section bars cities and states from regulating if and how local, state, or federal government officials share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The (federal government) will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with 1373 as a condition of receiving those awards,” said Sessions. He also warned that the department would “take all lawful steps to clawback” grant funds that have already been awarded to designated sanctuary cities.

Last year, California law enforcement agencies received $132 million in grant money from the Department. Sessions said that the Department plans to award $4.1 billion in such grants across the country this coming year.

High-profile sanctuary cities like San Francisco, which Sessions called out specifically during his speech, deny that they are in violation of Section 1373. Nevertheless, California Democrats are responding to Sessions remarks as a provocation.

“The announcement today by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is nothing short of blackmail,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in a statement.

Likewise, Senator Kamala Harris took her response to Twitter:

And in a press release issued this afternoon, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra called it a “low blow to our brave men and women in uniform to threaten to withhold public safety funding that they have earned unless Donald Trump gets his way on immigration.”

Even so, the Attorney General’s statement today may come as a relief to some California lawmakers. President Trump’s earlier statements left it unclear whether the administration intended to strip all federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions (something that many legal scholars say courts would consider an overreach) or to simply cut off grants that directly relate to local and state law enforcement.

The Attorney General’s announcement this morning amounted to a threat to withhold roughly $130 million from California. That isn’t peanuts, but it’s less than one-twentieth of one percent of the $368 billion that the state receives from D.C. every year.

California's Chief Justice warns immigration agents: Stop using courthouses as "bait"

published Mar 16, 2017

Immigration agents have been put on notice by California’s Supreme Court Chief Justice for “stalking undocumented immigrants” at courthouses.

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye writes that “courthouses should not be used as bait.” She added, “I respectfully request that you refrain from this sort of enforcement in California’s courthouses.”

Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

Chief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye

The Judicial Council of California said the Chief Justice had learned of the arrests of several people after court proceedings.

There are no figures for how many people have been apprehended by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at courthouses. One well-publicized case centered on a man who was detained while leaving a hearing at the Pasadena courthouse with his lawyer last month.

The justice’s letter goes on to explain: “Most Americans have more daily contact with their state and local governments than with the federal government, and I am concerned about the impact on public trust and confidence in our state court system if the public feels that our state institutions are being used to facilitate other goals and objectives, no matter how expedient they may be.”

Increased immigration enforcement began after President Trump issued an executive order prioritizing the deportation of all undocumented immigrants.

Immigration officials have defended the action, saying they only do it when absolutely necessary. The enforcement agency avoids arrests at sensitive locations like churches and schools. Courthouses are not included on that list.

After encouragement, immigrant students create last-minute surge in state scholarships applications

published Mar 3, 2017

Fears about deportation had initially depressed interest in a state-funded scholarship program for undocumented California students, but a campaign to reassure applicants seems to have worked. Applications this year are up slightly compared to last year thanks to a late surge of submissions.

“We are thrilled, excited,” Lupita Cortez Alcalá, executive director of the California Student Aid Commission, told EdSource.

Immigrants vying for a California Dream Act grant to help cover college costs in 2016 had only two months to apply, and the state received about 34,000 applications. This cycle, the application window was more than twice as long, but with one week to go before the March 2 deadline, only about 20,000 students had applied—a 40 percent drop.

That all changed over the last few days as lawmakers and top education officials practically begged qualified students to fill out an application.

“Please apply right away. The California Dream Act is the key to success in college and 21st century careers,” State Schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said. “It would be a shame if fear or confusion keeps students from applying for financial aid that they have earned and they deserve.”

A group of Assembly Democrats last week also urged students to go for it after seeing the anemic submission stats. “I’m pleased that the federal actions haven’t stopped tens of thousands of California Dream Act students from pursuing their education,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount. “I’m grateful to all the advocates and organizations who reached out to these students to help make sure they applied.”

In the end, the state received 35,882 applications, almost 2,000 more than last year.

Students reportedly told their high school guidance counselors and college financial aid officers that they believe the personal information they report to the state will be shared with the federal government, placing them at greater risk of deportation.

State's Democratic lawmakers file FOIA request for details of immigration raids

published Feb 27, 2017

California Democratic leaders upset over the Trump administration’s more aggressive crackdown against illegal immigration have sent a flare aimed at Washington D.C.—a Freedom of Information Act request for information about immigration raids and policies.

Assembly and Senate leaders sent the letter today. It’s latest punch in an escalating fight over efforts to deport millions of undocumented immigrants who were previously considered low-priority. The letter requests:

  • The number of people deported
  • The crimes they committed to get deported
  • If the detainees were allowed legal representation
  • If ICE agents were operating near schools, courts, government offices, churches and hospitals

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has said sensitive locations are still off-limits to agents.

“The lack of transparency by ICE is creating havoc and confusion in communities across the state and that has to change. It’s time for ICE to come clean on what they’re doing and how they intend to operate going forward,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in a statement.

State senator pushes bill to require California voter approval for Trump's wall

published Feb 22, 2017

In response to President Trump’s campaign to build a wall along more of the southern border, one California Democratic lawmaker is trying to throw up a barrier of his own: a bill that would require state voter approval of any federally funded project worth more than a billion dollars.

SB 30 is one of several bills Los Angeles Democrat Sen. Ricardo Lara has introduced to counter Trump on immigration enforcement. If the bill clears the Legislature and the governor signs it, it also would prohibit the state from contracting with any company that also provides goods or services to the federal government in its efforts to construct a new wall.

The state shares 130 miles of border with Mexico and exports billions of dollars worth of goods south.  There is already a wall along a stretch of the border between the two countries, and in some places there is a double barrier erected of cement, wire fencing and barbed wire. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also uses an array of technology, including ground sensors and drones, to man the border region.

Lara argues that the proposed wall would do “economic, social and environmental harm to the state.” Proponents note that a wall could impact up to 111 endangered species along the length of the border—including Bighorn sheep, bears and the bald eagle. Regardless, it’s not clear whether the state bill, if enacted, would survive a potential federal court challenge.

In Washington D.C., Trump continues to push for the wall, and memos signed by Homeland Security Secretary  John Kelly include provisions for Customs and Border Protection to begin its design and construction.

Trump administration widens net for deportable immigrants who were "low priority"

published Feb 21, 2017

The federal government widened its reach for the arrest and deportation of undocumented immigrants in two memos issued Tuesday, while California leaders continue to scramble to create some protections for those who may get arrested.

A bill by state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León to prevent local and state law enforcement officers from engaging in immigration enforcement has won approval from the Senate Public Safety Committee. He’s taken on the fight against enforcement and deportations of those the federal government had considered “low-priority” before President Trump’s latest executive orders.

“It is now clear the Trump Administration is not concerned with public safety, they are only focused on ripping hard-working men, women, and children from their families and communities. Mass deportations will not make us safer, instead they will simply undermine our state’s economy,” de León said in a statement after a spate of immigration raids.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted the series of operations across the country last week that resulted in the detention of 680 people, including 161 in Southern California.

Under the guideline memos issued today, serious criminals are still a priority, but officers and agents are encouraged to detain and deport any person they encounter who is in the country illegally, regardless of criminal record or the lack thereof. The only group exempt from the order are youth who entered the country illegally as children and who are part of the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—unless they have a criminal record. The memos from Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly also encourage enforcement against those considered “deportable,” including green card and visa holders who have committed crimes or violations that would put their status in jeopardy.

The agency says it is simply enforcing laws already on the books and addressing what the administration considers a national security vulnerability. Supporters of tougher enforcement say the guidance is much needed so immigration enforcers can do their jobs completely. The memos also outline the intention to hire 10,000 more immigration officers.

“We do not have the personnel, time or resources to go into communities and round up people and do all kinds of mass throwing folks on buses. That’s entirely a figment of folks’ imagination,” a Homeland Security official told reporters on a conference call, speaking only on condition of anonymity. “This is not intended to produce mass roundups, mass deportations.”

Last month during his State of the State speech, Gov. Brown said: “Let me be clear.  We will defend everybody—every man, woman and child—who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”

Trump suggests yanking fed dollars if California's a 'sanctuary'—can he do that?

published Feb 6, 2017

The burgeoning political standoff between California and the Trump administration took another step into unprecedented terrain this week when, on a pre-Super Bowl televised interview, the President denounced California as “out of control” and contemplated cutting its federal funding. The threat came in response to moves by the Democratic-controlled Legislature toward providing additional legal protections for undocumented immigrants and labeling California itself a “sanctuary state.”

But with President Donald Trump issuing an executive order to defund sanctuary jurisdictions, and San Francisco suing to have the order declared unconstitutional, a number of questions remain—not the least of which is “can the President really defund an entire state?”

State Democratic leaders pushed back, noting that California pays more in than it receives back from Washington.

Said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles): “President Trump’s threat to weaponize federal funding is not only unconstitutional but emblematic of the cruelty he seeks to impose on our most vulnerable communities.

Despite all the controversy, there is no single definition of what a sanctuary jurisdiction actually is. Broadly speaking, a city, county, or state is considered to have sanctuary status if it puts some restrictions on the degree to which its law enforcement officials can enforce immigration law. Opponents call this obstruction of federal law; sanctuary city defenders counter that it’s not the job of state and local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Ironically, California’s best defense against de-funding here might be that favorite legal claim of conservatives: state’s rights. And courts have ruled that federal funding options can’t be so coercive that they pass the point where “pressure turns into compulsion” and they deprive local or state governments of any real choice about policy decisions. For example, the federal government makes a small fraction of highway funding contingent on each state maintaining a legal drinking age of 21. The Supreme Court has held that this restriction wasn’t unduly coercive because of the relatively small stakes involved. But what about a threat to take away all federal funding?

Through his executive orders and in other ways, President Trump is likely to test the limits of these precedents. Read the full CALmatters story:

State Sen. Lara introduces bill to keep feds from state databases

published Feb 5, 2017

Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Ricardo Lara introduced a bill to prohibit any state agency or institution from sharing with the federal government information about any applicants, including undocumented immigrants.

The bill does allow for disclosure to law enforcement except in response to a warrant issued by a state or federal court related to an individual criminal prosecution. California keeps data submitted by undocumented immigrants who have applied for driver licenses, financial aid and other benefit programs.

Behind the border: A closer look at what Trump is–and isn't—talking about doing

published Jan 30, 2017

The border runs about 1,900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Some sort of barrier—made from concrete, steel mesh and/or barbed wire—currently stands along about a third of it, in areas U.S. Customs and Border Protection deems vulnerable to illicit cross-border activity. Some segments are a solid metal wall; others are composed of various materials and have spaces between barriers or mesh, making those sections less a wall than a fence.

Originally President Trump said he wanted a solid wall, 35 to 40 feet high, but later he backed away from that and said it could include other types of barriers like fencing. The executive order he issued this past week says: “Wall shall mean a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous and impassable physical barrier.”

But his order does not specify a wall or fence along every mile of the border. Even Trump himself, as early as last February, acknowledged in an MSNBC interview: “We don’t need 2,000 (miles), we need 1,000 because we have natural barriers…” There are also other prohibitions, such as a decades-old treaty with Mexico that bans any barriers from blocking the flow of rivers. And the Tohono O’odham Nation Native American reservation, which resides on border territory, has already said no to Trump’s plan. To override that tribal resistance, the Trump administration would need a congressional bill condemning the land and taking it from the reservation’s trust.

As to the cost, President Trump originally said his wall would cost about $8 to $12 million. Other cost estimates have run much higher. Remember, the intent of that Act, passed under the Bush administration, was to double-fence just 700 miles of the border—almost all of which have at least a single barrier now. Read the full CALmatters story:

Trump says student DREAMers "shouldn't be very worried" about deportation

published Jan 25, 2017

President Trump appears to be dramatically softening his tone regarding a popular program for immigrant children, telling ABC News that the program’s participants “shouldn’t be very worried” about deportation.

“I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody,” Trump said in an ABC News interview. “Where you have great people that are here that have done a good job, they should be far less worried.”

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, currently protects roughly 750,000 immigrant children whose parents brought them to this country illegally, allowing them to work and go to college.

Former President Barack Obama created the program with an executive order in 2012 after Congress debated but failed to pass the so-called DREAM Act, which would have given immigrant children similar legal protections. He acted one year after California adopted its own legislation for DREAMers, allowing them to obtain scholarships to attend state universities.

DREAM stands for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors.


If feds try to ID deportable immigrants using Cal data, state will block access

published Jan 21, 2017

Since January of 2015, when the state of California began offering immigrants here illegally the opportunity to become lawful drivers, the state Department of Motor Vehicles reports it has issued more than 792,000 licenses to undocumented drivers. Now, however, California is preparing for the possibility that the administration of President-elect Trump—who campaigned on a promise to deport at least 2 million people—might demand access to various state databases that would reveal the names and locations of undocumented immigrants, such as the one maintained by the DMV.

But in a state where Democrats hold the governor’s office and supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, lawmakers say if the Trump administration does come knocking for such state data, their answer will be a vociferous “no.” That would likely kick off what could be a protracted fed-versus-state legal battle—one in which people on both sides predict their argument would prevail.

“We’re consulting with our lawyers to make sure (data) is not accessible to federal authorities for any deportation proceedings,” said Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). Read the full CALmatters story:

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