California Barred From Enforcing Parts of Sanctuary Laws

(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge in Sacramento has ruled that private employers must comply with federal orders seeking information about immigrant employees, partly rejecting California’s sanctuary laws.

Judge John Mendez approved the Justice Department’s request for a preliminary injunction against sections of the Immigrant Worker Protection Act. But the judge denied the U.S.’s request to stop California from enforcing laws that bar local police from complying with federal directives and authorize the state attorney general to inspect privately owned federal detention centers.

Mendez’s opinion, which he concedes will likely be appealed, pitted the state, that has become the unofficial nexus of the Trump resistance, against the president over its autonomy to enforce laws to protect undocumented immigrants. The order follows a daylong hearing on June 20 in the state capital where attorneys for California and the Justice Department argued over what U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions described as “extreme” laws that disrupt the country’s constitutional order.

Central to Mendez’s conclusion is the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which prohibits states from enforcing legislation that conflicts with federal laws enacted by Congress. In this case, Mendez found that California’s law amounted to a targeted attack on the operations of federal immigration enforcement, a violation of the Supremacy Clause.

California had argued that its laws weren’t designed to prohibit U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from executing its own directives, but only to protect California employers and employees from sudden interrogation by ICE agents. Mendez didn’t buy it, determining the state law, which threatens fines against those employers who do comply with ICE demands, amounts to “meddling with federal government activities.”

The state can continue to enforce two other laws passed in the last year aimed at protecting California’s 2.6 million undocumented immigrants, including the California Values Act which prohibits local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration agents. Mendez ruled that any effort to require state agencies to comply with federal directives would amount to “commandeering” of state resources, a violation of the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

‘Increased Transparency’

California’s attorney general will continue to be armed with powers to investigate immigration detention facilities managed by local agencies or private operators on behalf of the federal government. “This review process does not purport to give California a role in determining whether an immigrant should be detained or removed from the country,” Mendez found, calling the law a step that contemplates “increased transparency.”

The state welcomed that part of the ruling.

"The federal court issued a 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,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “California’s laws work in concert—not conflict—with federal law."

The Justice Department will continue to seek out and fight “unjust policies that threaten public safety,” spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement. “California’s political leadership clearly intended to obstruct federal immigration authorities in their state.”

Mendez went out of his way to ensure his order wouldn’t be read as a political opinion by a California judge. Instead, he calls for swift, bipartisan action to resolve the country’s ongoing immigration crisis.

“This order hopefully will not be viewed through a political lens and this court expresses no views on the soundness of the policies or statutes involved in this lawsuit," Mendez said in his written order.

“There is no place for politics in our judicial system and this one opinion will neither define nor solve the complicated immigration issues currently facing our nation,” the judge wrote. “But if there is going to be a long-term solution to the problems our country faces with respect to immigration policy, it can only come from our legislative and executive branches.”

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