The Trump administration is suing California over its so-called sanctuary policies, a legal step that ratchets up the open conflict between the federal government and the state over immigration.
The federal complaint names as defendants the state as well as Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra in their official capacities. The suit alleges that there is "a deliberate effort by California" to obstruct federal immigration enforcement.
California officials are challenging Trump policies on numerous fronts, including environmental regulations and fair housing rules. But immigration is an especially heated battlefront between the pro-immigrant state and federal officials intent on enforcing immigration laws.
At issue in the federal suit are three recently approved California laws that limit the cooperation of law enforcement and businesses with immigration agents.
The lawsuit alleges the laws violate what's known as the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which essentially gives the federal government — and not the states — the authority to carry out federal laws.
California officials say the statutes do not conflict with federal law but rather set out boundaries that the states can establish.
Here's an explainer on the laws under challenge:s
Senate Bill 54 - Sanctuary State Law
Senate Bill 54, also called the sanctuary state law or California Values Act, took effect Jan. 1. It's perhaps the U.S. Department of Justice's biggest target. Among its main provisions:
• Release of unauthorized immigrants after they've served their sentences, perhaps the most significant part of the law. It said sheriff’s officials could notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents about an impending release of an inmate only if the person had committed one of 800 crimes. But it left out hundreds of less serious offenses, including drunk driving and petty theft of items valued at less than $950, even if the person had multiple convictions of such crimes.
That’s why Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she on Wednesday that she supports the Justice Department's lawsuit.
"ICE used to be able to come to our facilities on certain crimes to actually receive an individual who has served their time and now is going to go into ICE detention," Hutchens said. "They now have to go out onto the street and conduct search warrants for that individual, which makes it less safe for the community and law enforcement."
• The law also prohibits federal immigration agents from setting up shop inside county jails, but that's already the case in most of the state. For years, ICE had offices in many of the larger lockups across California to facilitate its screening of inmates to determine if they were in the country illegally. Under the new law, ICE can still interview people inside jails, with their consent, and sheriff's officials can still directly transfer people to immigration agents without releasing them from custody.
• The law bans local police and sheriff’s departments from participating in federal task forces whose primary purpose is to round up unauthorized immigrants.
Local law enforcement can assign officers to other types of joint operations, including human trafficking, child exploitation and transnational gang task forces. But local police have to provide documentation of their participation and guarantee to the state Department of Justice that they were not involved in deporting people.
Some law enforcement leaders maintain California’s new law in no way violates the supremacy clause.
"There is a big distinction in the law between what a local law enforcement agency can do, which is enforcing criminal law" and civil law enforcement, said Arif Alikhan, the Los Angeles Police Department’s director of constitutional policing.
"Immigration enforcement is generally civil law. It's administrative – that is not a criminal proceeding, and local law enforcement agencies do not have the jurisdiction or power to enforce immigration law."
Assembly Bill 450 — Worker Protection
The federal Department of Justice also wants to invalidate AB 450, known as the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which took effect in January. Among its provisions are that employers may not voluntarily give access to immigration agents to enter "nonpublic" areas of their worksite unless they provide a judicial warrant.
It also requires employers to notify workers within 72 hours if immigration officials request to audit their hiring records. This law has been especially relevant lately since immigration officials have been serving inspection notices at local businesses, including at local 7-Eleven stores and other worksites.
Assembly Bill 103 — Detention Facilities
The lawsuit also challenges a provision of AB 103, state budget legislation, that includes public safety provisions. AB 103 gave the state attorney general the authority to monitor conditions in federal immigrant detention facilities in California. This includes privately-run detention centers that contract with the government, such as one in Adelanto.
It law also prohibits cities or counties in the state from entering into new contracts with the federal government for immigrant detention facilities, and from modifying existing detention contracts to add bed space for additional detainees.
Brown and Becerra pledged to defend the California laws.
The federal district court in Sacramento, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court are all expected to review the lawsuit.