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California Considers Suing Trump Administration Over Immigration

Gov. Jerry Brown, left, and Attorney General Xavier Beccera, shown here in Sacramento, Calif., in April. (Rich Pedroncelli / AP)

Following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ threat to withhold certain federal funds from “sanctuary cities” that harbor undocumented immigrants, it appears that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a team of like-minded lawyers are prepared to sue the Trump administration in turn.

According to the The Sacramento Bee:

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra — in conjunction with other California city and county attorneys — is considering charging the Justice Department with violating the Constitution by threatening to take crime-fighting funds away from cities and states that do not fully cooperate with federal immigration agents, according to those sources.

“The cities and states affected by these provisions have strong arguments to make in court that these conditions are illegal,” said a former Justice Department official familiar with California officials’ thinking. “If Congress wanted these requirements to be part of the grant funding decision, they would have written it into the law.”

California Gov. Jerry Brown cautiously voiced his support for the idea of allowing a court to decide the constitutionality of such a policy in an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” saying, “”It might just be very helpful to get into court and resolve this in a judicial form, rather than in the rhetoric of politicians talking past one another. … [I]f the law is ambiguous, we can clarify it through litigation.”

The fight over sanctuary cities is a contentious one, but there is legal precedent for courts to rule as unconstitutional policies like the one Sessions has just proposed. In April, a federal judge blocked Trump’s effort to withhold federal money from sanctuary cities. The ruling was a significant one, as The New York Times notes:

While the order is only a temporary injunction until the judge issues a broader ruling on the executive order’s constitutionality, he strongly signaled that San Francisco and Santa Clara County, the plaintiffs in the case, were likely to win a permanent victory. It was also an early verdict on the question of whether the White House can coerce cities and counties into helping federal immigration agents detain and deport immigrants who are not authorized to be in the country.

California has been of particular interest to President Trump as a problematic sanctuary city. As he told Fox News in February, “If we have to, we’ll defund. We give tremendous amounts of money to California—California in many ways is out of control, as you know.”

Becerra is expected to fight back against Sessions’ order similarly to how San Francisco did—by asserting that funding distribution of grants to police departments and cities is under the jurisdiction of Congress. The Sacramento Bee elaborates:

Gil Duran, a Democratic strategist in California, said now is the time for officials to demonstrate “bold leadership and stand up for their highest values.”

“As a Californian, as a Latino and as the attorney general of the most populous state in the country, it is well within his scope of duty to do this,” said Duran, who has worked for some of the state’s top politicians, including Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California.

“Becerra is a guy who spent years in Washington and knows the law and he would be a very formidable opponent to Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions,” Duran said.

The Trump administration claims that the cooperation of sanctuary cities is necessary to fight crime and gang violence, but the mayors, police forces and labor commissions of sanctuary cities have pushed back against this assertion, maintaining that withholding crime-fighting funds or removing undocumented worker protections will exacerbate problems in immigrant communities with regard to their relationship with the police.

Additionally, a UCSD study demonstrates that crime is actually lower in sanctuary cities, and other studies show that crime rates are not higher in communities of undocumented immigrants—in turn suggesting that the Trump administration’s immigration policies are ill-advised and ineffective at best, and rooted in racist nationalism at worst.

Emily Wells
​Emily Wells is an Ear to the Ground blogger at Truthdig. As a journalist, she began as a crime reporter at the Pulitzer-winning daily newspaper, The Press-Enterprise...
Emily Wells

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