Wall Street Journal (California)
By Alejandro Lazo
March 1, 2017
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— A bill seeking to restrict cooperation between federal immigration authorities and police in California is shaping up as a major clash between this deep blue state and the Trump administration.
Lawmakers here are fast-tracking California Senate Bill 54, which pro-immigrant activists call an aggressive move to thwart President Donald Trump’s deportation policies, as a number of states consider similar moves to limit local and state police from participating in immigration enforcement.
The bill prohibits police from using personnel or resources in civil immigration detentions or arrests. It would block federal immigration officials from entering local jails to conduct interviews with detainees or gain access to police databases for immigration enforcement purposes.
In addition, the bill would curtail what police could tell federal immigration authorities about people in custody, and limit enforcement in places such as schools and courts.
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President Donald Trump, heading into a critical stretch of Republicans’ push to rewrite the Affordable Care Act, acknowledged Monday the effort would be complex and politically risky, but said he is determined to forge ahead because the ACA is a “disaster.”
State Republicans are voicing opposition to the bill, and some law-enforcement officials say the measure would imperil public safety.
White House spokesman Michael Short said it was too soon to comment on the legislation. “We’ll cross that bridge if and when we get there,” he said.
Nationally, Democratic mayors of major U.S. cities including Boston, New York and San Francisco are already on a collision course with the Trump administration after the president signed an order to cut off federal funds to cities with “sanctuary” policies that protect undocumented immigrants. San Francisco` in January filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration over that order.
Now, moves by governors and legislatures to expand such policies could signal a new front. Lawmakers in Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York and Washington have introduced bills that would to some degree limit state, local and law-enforcement personnel and facilities from participating in civil immigration enforcement.
Last week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order prohibiting the use of state resources in immigration enforcement, while Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy issued guidance to school superintendents and police chiefs restricting the degree to which they can work with immigration authorities. Both are Democrats.
In a briefing last week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said such efforts were out of step with the American public.
“American people by huge amounts support” the idea that “their tax dollars shouldn’t be spent supporting programs and activities to which people are not entitled to,” Mr. Spicer said.
Legal experts say states have the right to enact such policies, and point out that the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the Obama administration’s Medicaid expansion under the health law was unconstitutionally coercive of states.
“Restricting the use of state funds and personnel would in most cases be constitutional,” said Adam Cox, a New York University School of Law expert on immigration and constitutional law. “In most cases, Congress would be constitutionally prohibited from attempting to force a state like California to have their personnel assist in federal immigration enforcement efforts.”
A narrower question might arise on whether states could prohibit law enforcement from communicating with immigration officials, he said.
The California bill would be an early test of the new supermajorities Democrats have in both houses of the Legislature. The bill has a clause that would enact the policy immediately if it passes with two-thirds of both houses and is signed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. California legislation typically takes effect at the start of the year following its passage.
The rhetoric over the proposed state law comes as the Department of Homeland Security rolled out new deportation policies last week that call for enlisting local police in deportation efforts. A DHS spokeswoman declined to comment.
The bill also reflects the ascension of a generation of Latino Democratic lawmakers who came of age during the 1990s. “If they want to use us to help separate children from their mothers—they can count us out,” said the bill’s author, state Senate President Kevin de León, the son of an undocumented immigrant.
“We won’t lift a single finger, or spend a single cent, to be a cog in the Trump deportation machine.”
“This is not just about illegal immigration, it is about usurping the rule of law,” said Sen. Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga, a Republican who represents a portion of the Inland Empire, the region east of Los Angeles that has both a large immigration population and active conservative groups. He believes that limiting cooperation between immigration authorities and local law enforcement will lead to more criminals roaming the streets.
The California Chamber of Commerce hasn’t taken a position on the legislation.
The California State Sheriffs’ Association opposes the bill.
Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the organization, said sheriffs weren’t interested in carrying out federal immigration duties, but the bill would block the ability to partner with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on important matters. ICE largely targets criminal elements among the immigrant population, he said, whose victims tend to be other immigrants.
“Is the next business going to be to say we can’t work with the DEA, or the FBI, or any of our federal partners? Because that just doesn’t make sense,” Sheriff Youngblood said.
David Livingston, sheriff of Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, operates a medium-security jail in the city of Richmond, which contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and is used by ICE. The jail provides about $3 million in revenue after costs every year, he said, which helps offsets taxpayer costs. That contract could be in jeopardy if Mr. de León’s bill passes.
Mr. de León said he believes the bill would do nothing to stop immigration officials from doing their job—federal agents could continue to conduct operations to find undocumented immigrants. But erecting a wall between immigration officials and police statewide would derail large-scale deportations.
President Trump “needs to commandeer local police agencies, local sheriffs and highway patrol officers—otherwise he doesn’t have the personnel,” Mr. de León said.
The brewing battle underscores how California is poised to become a haven for Democrats seeking to preserve progressive policies on health care, climate change, the environment and immigration after the party took a national drubbing in 2016.
California is home to about 2.6 million undocumented immigrants, the largest number in the U.S., according to the Center for Migration Studies, a nonprofit based in New York. State policy makers have for more than a decade worked to provide them with services such as driver's licenses, in-state tuition, university grants, student loans, professional licenses and government-sponsored health care for children.
“California has a tremendously unified political leadership at this point, and California is going to be at or near the forefront” regarding immigration policies, said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.
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