Capitol Alert

California beats Trump in sanctuary state battle's first round

California’s sanctuary state status draws protesters outside federal court hearing

Protesters rally outside during a federal court hearing in Sacramento on California's sanctuary state status, Wednesday, June 20, 2018.
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Protesters rally outside during a federal court hearing in Sacramento on California's sanctuary state status, Wednesday, June 20, 2018.

A federal judge on Wednesday denied the Trump administration's request to immediately halt California's sanctuary state law.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez issued a 60-page ruling nearly two weeks after lawyers for the federal government and the state faced off in court during a daylong hearing. The Trump administration asked the judge for an injunction against Senate Bill 54, which limits the ability of state and local law enforcement to help federal agents enforce immigration law, and two other state laws as the federal government's lawsuit against the state makes its way through the court system.

"Plaintiff’s argument that SB 54 makes immigration enforcement far more burdensome begs the question: more burdensome than what?" Mendez wrote in his July 4 ruling. "The laws make enforcement more burdensome than it would be if state and local law enforcement provided immigration officers with their assistance. But refusing to help is not the same as impeding."

Mendez denied the request to halt Senate Bill 54 and Assembly Bill 103, which allows the California attorney general to inspect detention facilities in the state.

He approved the Trump administration's request to temporarily prevent the state from requiring private employers to deny federal immigration authorities access to nonpublic areas of a worksite or employee records without a warrant under an Assembly bill.

The judge said AB 450 places employers in a "precarious situation."

"The Court finds that a law which imposes monetary penalties on an employer solely because that employer voluntarily consents to federal immigration enforcement’s entry into nonpublic areas of their place of business or access to their employment records impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the federal government," Mendez wrote.

He upheld a portion of AB 450 that requires companies to inform workers of any federal requests to inspect employment records within 72 hours.

"The preliminary injunction of AB 450 is a major victory for private employers in California who are no longer prevented from cooperating with legitimate enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws," said Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, in a statement. "While we are disappointed that California’s other laws designed to protect criminal aliens were not yet halted, the Justice Department will continue to seek out and fight unjust policies that threaten public safety."

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to California and announced the federal lawsuit against the state's immigration policies in March. The laws were enacted to protect immigrant workers and prevent the Trump administration from seeking the state's help to ramp up deportations.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra applauded the court's "strong ruling against federal government overreach."

"The Constitution gives the people of California, not the Trump Administration, the power to decide how we will provide for our public safety and general welfare," Becerra said in a statement. "California’s laws work in concert—not conflict—with federal law."

The injunction ruling serves as the first legal test of California's sanctuary state law and an early indicator of the Trump administration's odds of winning the lawsuit.

"Today, a federal judge made clear what I’ve known all along, that SB 54, the California Values Act is constitutional and does not conflict with federal law," said Kevin de León, the state lawmaker who introduced the sanctuary state law. "California is under no obligation to assist Trump tear apart families. We cannot stop his mean-spirited immigration policies, but we don’t have to help him, and we won’t."

Mendez, nominated to the bench by former President George W. Bush in 2007, said the motion for an injunction presented "unique and novel constitutional issues." He said he reached his ruling after careful analysis of legal precedents and "without concern for any possible political consequences." Mendez stressed that piecemeal judicial rulings will not solve problems with the immigration system.

"Accordingly, this court joins the ever-growing chorus of federal Judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bi-partisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue," Mendez wrote. "Our nation deserves it. Our constitution demands it."

Gov. Jerry Brown similarly called for federal immigration reform.

"Only Congress can chart the path forward by rising above mindless, partisan divisions and working together to solve this problem, not exacerbate it," Brown said.

Sanctuary cities have become a hot topic in recent months, but the modern movement began more than 30 years ago in Tucson, Arizona.

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