The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit on March 6, 2018, against the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown, and the state’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, over several “sanctuary” laws passed by the state. DOJ argues in its complaint that these laws “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. Accordingly, the provisions at issue here are invalid.”
The three laws at issue are the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which regulates the way private employers can respond to federal efforts to investigate workplace immigration law compliance; the California Values Act, which limits communication from state and local law enforcement with federal immigration officials and prevents them from investigating people for immigration enforcement purposes; and A.B. 103, which subjects local detention facilities to twice-yearly inspections by the California Attorney General’s office.
It appeared that the Trump administration’s pushback against California and other states enacting such laws is not confined to lawsuits or ICE raids. Thomas Homan, Acting Director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), reportedly said after one of the laws was enacted that “[w]e’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes.” And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the Department of Justice was looking into “what avenues might be available” for potentially charging state and local officials. On March 6, in a speech in California, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions invoked the Civil War, stating, “There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land. I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg or to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”
California officials remained defiant in the face of the lawsuit and other threats. Mr. Becerra responded to the lawsuit and related threats that California will not do the federal government’s “bidding on immigration enforcement and deportation.” He said state and federal teams “work together to go after drug dealers and go after gang violence,” but that the state would not “change from being focused on public safety” rather than on deportation.
On January 17, 2018, U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) and Kamala Harris (D-Cal.) sent a letter to Mr. Homan asking for a full accounting of how ICE raids are being prioritized and conducted, quoting a television interview where Mr. Homan had said “California better hold on tight.” Sens. Feinstein and Harris said they were deeply concerned that ICE was not prioritizing violent criminals. “We firmly believe that law enforcement must prioritize dangerous criminals and not undocumented immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety. Diverting resources in an effort to punish California and score political points is an abhorrent abuse of power, not to mention a terrible misuse of scarce resources.” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf recently publicly warned that ICE agents were about to conduct a large operation in her area. “I know that Oakland is a city of law-abiding immigrants and families who deserve to live free from the constant threat of arrest and deportation. I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent,” she said. Mr. Homan said that as a result, federal agents subsequently were able to arrest only about 200 people instead of a higher percentage of the 1,000 they had targeted. President Trump threatened to pull all ICE agents out of California.
Subsequently, James Schwab, ICE’s spokesperson in San Francisco, quit his position, stating, “I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts. I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.” He said he “didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against [Mayor Schaaf’s] actions was the way to go about it. We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”