California Democratic lawmakers issued a stinging rebuke Wednesday of President Donald Trump’s executive actions on immigration, saying California is ready to sue the federal government to defend the state’s residents and prevent mass deportations.
At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, said the Legislature will fast-track a set of new laws to expand protections for undocumented immigrants and fund legal representation for those facing deportation. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who took office Tuesday, and former U.S. Attorney Eric Holder will play key roles in the state’s fight to “protect all Californians,” de León said.
“Thanks to the supermajority we won in November, we have the ability to use urgency clauses to implement new laws immediately, and the actions of the new administration demand an immediate response,” de León said. “We will also explore all of our legal options, in collaboration with Attorney General Becerra and the legislature’s legal counsel.”
Trump on Wednesday signed one executive order calling for a wall or “other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier” separating the United States from Mexico to “ensure the safety and territorial integrity of the United States.” Another states the administration’s intent to withhold federal dollars from jurisdictions that serve as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, in part by limiting law enforcement and other agencies from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
San Francisco and Los Angeles, among other areas, have become high-profile examples of sanctuary cities. Federal money to local jurisdictions provides grants to law enforcement and other agencies for staffing, training, crime prevention programs, drug treatment and more.
In a statement, Becerra said it was important to keep Trump’s actions in proper context.
“Executive orders do not change existing law,” he said. “Executive orders cannot contradict existing law. And executive orders can be challenged for violating constitutional and legal standards in their enforcement.”
“The California (Department of Justice) will protect the rights of all of its people from unwarranted intrusion from any source, including the federal government.”
De León, flanked by leaders of the state’s Latino Caucus, as well as ranking members of state judiciary and budget committees, quoted from Trump’s executive order on sanctuary cities, saying California will not shy away from a legal fight, if necessary.
“These are spiteful and mean-spirited directives that only instill fear in the hearts of millions of people who pay taxes, contribute to our economy and our way of life,” de León said. “Tearing apart honest, hardworking families is not the answer. Separating mothers from their children is no solution.”
He and others, including Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, referenced an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Dec. 22 that argues the federal government is barred from forcing cities and counties to enforce federal directives.
“We will bring a lawsuit, based on that decision, if we have to,” Jackson said after the news conference, mentioning recent Supreme Court decisions. “This man is acting recklessly and outside of existing law.”
Lawmakers said they would speed a pair of proposed bills through the Legislature as emergency stop-gap measures in response to the duo of executive actions Trump signed.
Senate Bill 31, proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would prohibit state or local agencies from “providing or disclosing personally identifiable information” when sought for law enforcement or immigration purposes, except as part of a “targeted investigation.” It would also prohibit law enforcement agencies from using resources to assist federal immigration officials.
SB 6, proposed by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would enlist the state to provide legal assistance to those facing deportation, among other things.
Republican lawmakers did not attend the press briefing, but in recent hearings leading up to Becerra’s confirmation, several said they oppose sanctuary city policies, saying they protect people who have committed crimes – an argument Democrats vehemently denounced as a scare tactic.
Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, defended the city’s protections for immigrants and called Trump’s executive orders “piece(s) of garbage,” that are “part of a steady stream of hatred that’s been coming out of our own White House since Friday.”
“Our sanctuary city status has allowed immigrant communities in San Francisco to flourish (and become) active members of their communities without fear of sweeps or being deported,” Wiener said. “It has allowed people to contact the police and not be fearful that when the police arrive, the victim of a crime is going to be detained and deported.
“We’re proud of our sanctuary city status and we are going to fight like crazy to protect it...not just in San Francisco, but California.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect changes in Lara’s legislation.
Angela Hart: 916-321-1178, @ahartreports