April 6 (UPI) -- California has become ground zero in a battle over so-called "sanctuary laws" aimed at protecting people from arrest and deportation amid a Trump administration crackdown on illegal immigration.
State laws that took effect Jan. 1 aim to circumvent local responsibility for immigration enforcement. But some California cities, counties and towns are revolting, instead taking measures to support enforcement.
"Overall what's at stake is many states and localities have been experimenting with different policy efforts to protect immigrants and to get their local government officials out of the business of immigration enforcement," said Annie Lai, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at the University of California-Irvine.
On March 6, the U.S. Department of Justice sued California over three state laws passed last year:
-- One that prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using public funds to "investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes."
-- One that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to obtain a judicial warrant to enter a place of business that has non-public space without consent and restricts employers from sharing information with ICE without ensuring they have a warrant or subpoena.
-- A public safety omnibus that includes provisions preventing state and local agencies from entering into contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants and allowing the state attorney general to monitor federal immigration detention facilities.
"Federal law is the supreme law of the land," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during a recent speech in Sacramento. "A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law."
Beyond California, some cities have declared themselves safe spaces, including New Orleans, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Miami, Milwaukee, New York and Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago. In July, the Justice Department announced it would withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.
Federal judges in Chicago and San Francisco issued nationwide injunctions preventing the Trump administration from adding conditions to Justice Department grant funding and a federal judge in Philadelphia ruled to block efforts to interfere with funds.
DOJ threatened subpoenas against 23 counties, cities and states demanding records of their sanctuary policies. But California, which has a history of pro-immigration legislation and Democratic leadership who have feuded with President Donald Trump, was the only state to face legal action seeking to block the measures.
"The state overall is pretty Democratic and so it has a lot of support in passing these sanctuary laws," Rob Robinson, an assistant professor in political science at California State University-Fullerton, said. "It's not surprising to me that this is the state where the sanctuary city issue is the strongest and because it is the strongest, that's part of what drives the pushback."
New state laws
Senate Bill 54 is the most comprehensive of the three laws included in the lawsuit.
"The idea with SB 54 is to limit the circumstances under which local government institutions or officials would be either providing information that ICE is demanding or access to people in a local jail or otherwise facilitate their transfer of custody to ICE," Lai said.
The law contains some provisions based on a person's criminal history under which communication and facilitation of transportation is permitted but it also provides localities the opportunity to further limit interaction between law enforcement and ICE.
"SB 54 does make clear that it is the new state standard, but it is not the ceiling," Grisel Ruiz, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, told UPI. "So while all cities, counties and law enforcement have to comply with SB 54 they are more than welcome to pursue and adopt stronger policies."
Assembly Bill 450 deals with worksite raids and audits.
"If ICE came to a workplace today and wanted to enter into a private area such as an office, the employer wouldn't be allowed to give ICE consent unless ICE has a warrant," Ruiz said.
AB 450 also requires employers to notify employees if ICE is preparing to conduct an audit.
"That's not unlawful, in fact it can be useful for clearing up misunderstandings," Lai said.
Assembly Bill 103 on public safety includes provisions preventing state and local agencies from entering into contracts with the federal government to detain immigrants and allowing the state attorney general to monitor federal immigration detention facilities.
The law makes California the only U.S. state that provides local oversight of immigration jails, Ruiz said.
Since the state laws took effect, some municipalities have taken steps to further limit interaction with ICE, while others have sought new ways to provide federal immigration officials with information about undocumented immigrants.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors of Orange County -- California's third-largest county -- voted unanimously to join Sessions in the lawsuit claiming the laws are unconstitutional.
"Senate Bill 54 prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal officials before immigrants in their custody who may be subject to deportation are released," Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. "I took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States, not the unconstitutional actions of the state of California."
Trump tweeted in support of Orange County as "defending their rights against California's illegal and unconstitutional sanctuary policies."
"California's sanctuary laws release known dangerous criminals into communities across the state. All citizens have the right to be protected by federal law and strong borders," he said.
The City of Huntington Beach voted 6 to 1 on Monday to file a lawsuit against the state over the sanctuary laws.
In March, the small Southern California town of Los Alamitos voted 4 to 1 to be exempt from SB-54 as Councilman Warren Kusumoto, who introduced the legislation, said it was "looking out for the constituents in our city."
On Feb. 25, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents about a potential ICE raid after receiving information from "credible sources" about an impending sweep.
Sessions said Schaaf was actively seeking to help undocumented immigrants avoid apprehension by ICE.
"Her actions support those who flout our laws and boldly validate the illegality," he said.
The sanctuary law case will be tried by Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento. ICE director Thomas Holman is set to testify before April 13 at the request of the state.
Robinson said such moves by California municipalities are largely examples of "symbolic politics" as the cities and counties have no independent power to resist state law.
"This is a way they can kind of be with the president, but not in a way that would make people as angry as being with the president would in California," Robinson said.