Federal immigration agents try to overtrump California’s sanctuary law

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.

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