National News

Trump administration sharpens legal arguments against California sanctuary laws

Posted June 7, 2018 7:26 p.m. EDT

SAN FRANCISCO -- Renewing its attack on California's sanctuary laws, the Trump administration has told a federal judge that the state is interfering illegally in immigration enforcement by penalizing employers who allow federal agents to enter their workplaces.

``California has no authority to penalize employers who voluntarily cooperate with federal officials,'' Justice Department lawyers said in a filing Wednesday in federal court in Sacramento in support of their lawsuit against the state.

The suit, filed in March, seeks to overturn three new state laws that limit immigration officers' access to local jails and private workplaces and to information about immigrants in custody or at work. A judge has scheduled a hearing for June 20 on the Trump administration's request to halt enforcement of the laws and the state's motion to dismiss the suit.

Wednesday's filing sharpened the government's attack on one of the laws, AB450 by Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, which seeks to prevent workplace raids by federal agents looking for undocumented immigrants. The law requires agents to get a judicial warrant before entering a workplace, fines employers who allow agents to enter without a warrant, and requires employers to notify their workers before immigration officers examine their records.

The state, in its court filings, said AB450 ``is meant to make the workplace a safer environment (and) protect employee privacy'' and is within California's legal authority to regulate the workplace. But Trump administration lawyers said federal law allows immigration officers to enter private property with the property owner's consent.

``The Constitution does not allow California to impede federal law enforcement'' by penalizing employers who allow immigration agents into their workplaces, the Justice Department argued. They also said the requirement of advance notice to employees of plans to inspect workers' records is just as illegal as requiring warning to criminal suspects that the FBI is looking for them.

Pratheepan Gulasekaram, an immigration law professor at Santa Clara University, said AB450 is ``a novel type of law'' and the Justice Department may be able to overturn the law's penalties for employers who cooperate with federal agents. He said the state is on stronger ground in requiring employers to notify employees of upcoming records inspections, because such federal enforcement and advance notification ``is perfectly legal to do in an open society.''

Another new state law, AB103, allows the California attorney general's office to inspect private jails that have federal contracts to hold immigrants facing deportation hearings. The Justice Department argued that the state has no authority to inspect those facilities or any other aspect of federal immigration enforcement.

The filing also challenged the most far-reaching new law, SB54. It prohibits local law enforcement agencies from holding immigrants in custody after their scheduled release date, from notifying federal agents of an immigrant's scheduled release date, from providing agents with personal information about detainees, and from granting federal agents access to local jails.

Those prohibitions do not apply to detainees held on serious charges and also do not prevent local authorities from choosing to release information to the public, an exception that has prompted some county sheriffs to disclose immigrants' impending release dates online.

Justice Department lawyers argued, however, that any restrictions on disclosure of an undocumented immigrant's release date or status in local custody violate a federal law that prohibits states from interfering with the exchange of information about any individual's ``citizenship or immigration status.''

SB54 ``seeks to undermine the system that Congress designed,'' which ``presumes that the United States will be made aware of the release date of aliens in local custody,'' government lawyers said.

Gulasekaram was skeptical. California is not preventing local officials from sharing information about anyone's immigration status, he said, and the Justice Department's argument ``would stretch the (federal) statute beyond its text.''