DOJ Suing California Regarding Sanctuary City Laws

State and federal jurisdiction have been in conflict since the beginning of the United States. Recently, it has taken the form of a fierce legal battle on immigration. Just last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a speech confirming legal action against the state of California.

The timeline of the issue is as follows. Trump signed an executive order focusing on undocumented immigrants, threatening to remove grant funding from states with sanctuary cities. Sanctuary cities are places that have enacted laws that aim to protect undocumented immigrants, making it difficult for the federal government to find and arrest them. California signed in three laws in retaliation, giving itself more authority to resist federal immigration officials. The state has granted itself the power to view federal immigration documents and restricted private employers and local officials from cooperating with federal officers. It also restricted the date of release for criminal immigrants. And now, the Department of Justice is suing California on the grounds that it is violating the U.S. Constitution.

Both sides draw their arguments from the same major legal precedents. The Department of Justice states that it is unconstitutional for states not to cooperate with the federal government. It also asserts that California's actions are unconstitutional because the nation's immigration issues are within the purview of federal jurisdiction. A court ruling in a 2012 case Arizona v. United States confirmed that arresting undocumented immigrants is under federal jurisdiction. Section 1373 of the federal immigration code also clearly states that states cannot prevent their officials from sharing information with federal agents on immigration statuses.  The federal government has been trying to invoke Section 287(g) of the Immigration Act to deputize local law enforcement officers to help enforce federal immigration laws. 

California takes a different stance on upholding these precedents. It argues that by not actively cooperating, it is actually respecting the ruling that these matters are the job of solely the federal government. Immigration law, according to Californian Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is under the jurisdiction of the federal government and not something to be forced upon states to perform. States have sovereignty and some level of autonomy that should not be violated. Regarding Section 1373, his position is that the Californian laws do not violate the Constitution because they are for public safety purposes, not immigration enforcement.

This case will likely go up to the U.S. Supreme Court, since it involves very important constitutional issues. The outcome is hard to predict. The Supreme Court may take a middle of the road approach by holding part of the Californian laws unconstitutional. California will likely continue to assert their point on Section 1373 and that they are only acting in public safety interests. Both sides choose to interpret codified laws in differing ways that suit their own ideals and goals. The 2012 Arizona ruling was actually in favor of the federal government taking action on immigrant arrests instead of local enforcement. Now, the ruling is being used to argue that states need to cooperate with the national government.What's clear is that the debate on immigration has moved even further into the spotlight in the eventual first year of Donald Trump's presidency. The outcome will surely have a strong influence on sanctuary cities and the immigrants they protect.


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