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.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has filed a lawsuit against California over immigrant-friendly laws that push back on immigration enforcement and detention by the federal government.
The lawsuit alleges that California is in violation of the U.S. Constitution because of three of its “sanctuary” laws, which it says obstruct enforcement of federal immigration law and impact public safety, according to national news sources.
Sessions is scheduled to announce the move Wednesday morning at a yearly state law-enforcement event.
The three laws the Department of Justice is asking the courts to strike down are AB 450, which requires employers to keep information about their employees private without a court order; AB 103, which mandates inspections for immigration detention facilities in the state, and SB 54, the law that limits interaction between local law enforcement and federal authorities. All took effect this year.
The best known of the three measures prohibits local law enforcers from questioning people about their immigration status during regular interactions and bans some detentions requested by federal authorities. It does allow state officials to cooperate with federal agents in situations where deportation is required for those who have committed up to 800 serious crimes.
On Tuesday evening, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra responded to the lawsuit, saying “state law is in concert with federal law.”
He pointed out that state officials do often work with federal law enforcers on drug, gang and human-trafficking crimes, and that will continue.
“What we won’t do is change from being focused on public safety,” he said. “We are in the business of public safety, not of deportation.”
He argues that state and local jurisdictions have a right to determine their own public-safety policies, and it works best when they are “focusing their time as law enforcement officials and their resources on combating dangerous criminals rather than on immigration enforcement.”
Becerra said he and his office will defend the state against the lawsuit, calling it a “B-movie” he has seen before.
“No matter what happens in Washington, California will stay the course and enforce all our laws and protect all our people. That’s how we keep our community safe here in California,” he said.
Governor Jerry Brown responded to reports of the lawsuit with a statement: “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”
When Brown signed SB 54 into law, he issued a statement that said, “This bill does not prevent or prohibit Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Department of Homeland Security from doing their own work in any way. They are free to use their own considerable resources to enforce federal immigration law in California.”
Supporters of California’s “sanctuary” policy gathered today outside the U.S. district courthouse in Sacramento, where a federal judge heard arguments over state laws that limit some types of cooperation with immigration authorities. The Trump administration, which filed its suit over the laws in March, is seeking an injunction to halt them. The hearing was held on the same day President Trump issued an executive order rescinding the federal practice of separating migrant families at the U.S. border.
California’s sanctuary law—by limiting how much state and local law enforcement could cooperate with federal immigration agents—engaged in a we-won’t-hold-‘em policy that outraged the Trump administration. Now its federal border patrol agents reportedly have upped the ante.
Those agents have begun refusing to turn over suspects wanted by California law enforcement agencies for crimes such as sexual assault and drug possession, instead either charging them with immigration-related federal crimes or simply deporting them, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.
This latest escalation of the power struggle between the Trump administration and California worries some immigration advocates and legal experts.
“It does seem to be a tit for tat,” said Jean Reisz of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law. “And that doesn’t serve anyone well.”
Jon Rodney of the California Immigrant Policy Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Sacramento, had stronger words: “This move underscores the deeply hypocritical, manipulative and deceptive nature of the federal government’s deportation force.”
At the root of Reisz’ concern is not just the escalation of rhetoric, or any political maneuvering that might be going on. The law is written for its victims, she said, who may not feel they got justice if the accused is sent back home.
“It’s illegal to leave the country if there’s a pending criminal case against you,” Reisz said. Reportedly, convicted felons who were accused of serious crimes such as sex offenses were deported rather than turned over to California police.
The details about these particular deportations isn’t clear—the Times affected Southern California sheriff’s departments declined to comment, saying federal authorities hadn’t provided them enough information to identify which suspects they had refused to transfer.
Some police officers and sheriffs from conservative cities and counties have lambasted California’s sanctuary policy and called for it to be overturned.
Both the state’s sanctuary law and the apparent federal retaliation against it mark a departure from the cooperation that once existed between California police and sheriffs and immigration agents.
We have another lawsuit.
With a new filing this morning, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra brought the state’s total number of legal challenges against the Trump administration to 33. That’s two lawsuits per month since the president assumed office.
The question at issue this time: did the Environmental Protection Agency violate federal procedures when it reversed an Obama-era rule requiring agricultural companies to train their workers about the hazards of pesticides? This is the eighth case brought against the agency or its administrator, Scott Pruitt.
Track all of California’s lawsuits against the Trump administration here.