The Justice Department has filed suit against the state of California over its policies that protect illegal immigrants from U.S. immigration authorities. The lawsuit challenges the legality of three separate California laws.
First, the California Values Act (SB 54) strictly limits state and local agencies from sharing information with federal officers about criminals or suspects unless they have been convicted of serious crimes. Second, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) prohibits local business from allowing federal officers to gain access to employee records without a court order or subpoena. Third, the state budget bill (AB 103) prohibits new contracts for immigration detention in the state and gives the state attorney general the power to monitor all state immigration detention centers.
The U.S. alleges that all three laws violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. SB 54 and AB 450 do so by, among other things, “constituting an obstacle to the United States’ enforcement of the immigration laws and discriminating against federal immigration enforcement.” In addition, SB 54 violates 8 U.S.C. § 1373(a), which bars federal, state, and local entities from prohibiting or restricting “any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, [federal immigration authorities] information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.”
AB 103 violates the Supremacy Clause by, among other things, constituting an obstacle to federal enforcement of the immigration laws and by discriminating against the United States. California does not require any local detention facility to comply with section 12532’s heightened inspection regime when it houses detainees for other federal or California entities. AB 103’s requirements apply only when local detention facilities house federal civil immigration detainees.
Under the Supremacy Clause, states cannot interfere with the federal government’s exercise of its constitutional powers. Nor can states assume functions that are exclusively entrusted to the federal government.
The Obama administration successfully relied on the Supremacy Clause to negate most of an Arizona law aimed at discouraging and deterring the unlawful entry, presence, and economic activity of illegal immigrants. In that case, the Supreme Court stated that “[t]he Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens,” and “[t]he Supremacy Clause gives Congress the power to preempt state law.”
In the California case, the Justice Department relies on this power. It states: “the United States has broad authority to establish immigration laws, the execution of which the states cannot obstruct or discriminate against.” It argues:
The provisions of state law at issue have the purpose and effect of making it more difficult for federal immigration officers to carry out their responsibilities in California. The Supremacy Clause does not allow California to obstruct the United States’ ability to enforce laws that Congress has enacted or to take actions entrusted to it by the Constitution.
In a speech today hosted by the California Peace Officers’ Association, Attorney General Sessions denounced the barriers California has erected to federal enforcement of the immigration laws:
In recent years, California has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers—to intentionally use every power it has to undermine duly-established immigration law in America.
California won’t let employers voluntarily allow ICE agents on their property. And California requires employers to give notice to employees before ICE inspects their workplace.
When this law was before the California General Assembly, a Judiciary Committee report explicitly stated that its goal was to frustrate “an expected increase in federal immigration enforcement actions.”
ICE agents are federal law enforcement officers carrying out federal law. California cannot forbid them or obstruct them in doing their jobs.
Just imagine if a state passed a law forbidding employers from cooperating with OSHA in ensuring workplace safety. Or the EPA, looking for a polluter. That would obviously be absurd. But it would be no different in principle from this new law enacted by California.
And just think about the situation it puts California employers in. They want to help law enforcement. They want to do their civic duty. We ought to encourage that.
But your state attorney general has repeatedly said his office will prosecute these business owners. Let me quote: “ignorance of the law is no excuse if you violate it” and “you are subjecting yourself to up to $10,000 [in fines] for violations.”
California has also claimed the authority to inspect facilities where ICE holds people in custody. Already this year, California has specifically and in a discriminatory manner targeted six facilities and demanded documents and other material from the Department of Homeland Security.
California won’t let law enforcement officers like you transfer prisoners into ICE custody or even communicate with ICE that you’re about to release someone they’re looking for. Remember that California found these people dangerous enough to detain them in the first place, but then insists on releasing them back into the community instead of allowing federal officers to remove them.
And rather than allow ICE officers to do their jobs at the jailhouse, they force these officers to conduct far more dangerous arrests elsewhere—where violent criminals may reside and where children can be caught in the crossfire.
That’s not just unconstitutional, it’s a plain violation of federal statute and common sense.
Of the lawsuit, Sessions said:
Contrary to what you might hear from the lawless open borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland, or anyone else to enforce immigration laws. . . .
We are simply asking California and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement.
Stop treating immigration agents differently from everybody else for the purpose of eviscerating border controls and advancing an open borders philosophy shared by only the most radical extremists. Stop protecting lawbreakers and giving all officers more dangerous work to do so that a few politicians can score political points on the backs of officer safety.
California may not be the judicial friendliest jurisdiction in which to bring an anti-sanctuary cities lawsuit. However, the DOJ has picked an egregious set of laws to challenge, and this may stand it in good stead when, as seems extremely likely, the U.S. Supreme Court becomes involved.