Trump vs. California: migration as an subject of confrontation

With the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, the state is preparing for a fight that will define not only three laws but a whole federal policy

Trump vs. California: migration as an subject of confrontation

In an unprecedented act, the Justice Department moved from aggressive rhetoric to a bold legal offensive against the state of California, United States, on Tuesday, March 6th, when a lawsuit was brought forward in a Sacramento courtroom challenging its "sanctuary" policy "with which the state diminishes the ability of immigration authorities to capture and deport immigrants without documents". 

In the lawsuit, the Justice Department is attacking three California laws that protect undocumented immigrants. The first is SB-54, which was approved at the end of last year, provoking the ire of Jeff Sessions. This limits the actions local police can make when stopping, interrogating, and sharing certain information about undocumented immigrants, unless they have committed specific serious crimes.

The AB-103 requires the state to supervise the conditions of migrant detention facilities in its jurisdiction and establishes a moratorium on the lease of prison beds to ICE (a police force that reports directly to Washington and is aimed at the capture of undocumented persons).

And, finally, there is the AB-450, which requires a court order to inspect employee records and requires companies to notify employees before ICE raids in the workplace. This third law – also known as the immigrant workers' law – is the most susceptible to being challenged legally, mainly because it puts the private aspect of an individual's life in the middle of the fight between the state and the federal government.

The discussion of this last law could force the courts to decide important questions regarding the procedures in arrests and raids to undocumented people. "A court analyzing this issue may have to decide whether it is reasonable to expect that ICE will have to issue a subpoena or court order", says Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, a law professor at the University of Denver, who studies the intersection of criminal and immigration law. .

The Justice Department's lawsuit says that these laws violate federal statutes and cite the Constitution's Supremacy Clause which says, "In case of conflict, federal law rules against state law2, affirmed Jeff Sessions, Attorney General of the United States. United States, at a press conference during the 26th annual conference of police authorities.

The Trump government's demand was defended by National Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who said in a statement that California has purposely chosen to "contradict the will and responsibility of Congress to protect our homeland". 

For his part, the Attorney General of California, Xavier Becerra, will be the defender in the lawsuit. On the Wednesday following the filing of the lawsuit, he responded at a press conference insisting that state laws work "in concert" with the federal laws and that the Tenth Amendment puts limits to federal power over state rights.

What does this judicial process involve?

The lawsuit filed last week hides complex and deeply crucial questions about the relationship between the federal government and the states, whose answers can define the balance with local, state and federal power in the US. For example, what is the extent of the federal government's control over immigration? To what extent can states, counties and cities regulate their internal affairs without violating the constitution and its amendments? The way in which both sides face these questions is something that will be appreciated when the case begins to advance its judicial channel.

"Essentially, what will happen is that the federal government will argue that … anything related to immigration is part of their field", says Rick Su, a law professor at the University of Buffalo, a specialist in immigration and local governments. "And, essentially, the state will say this can not be read widely, because that would take away everything – or too much – from the legal priority to the regulatory sphere of the state", Su says as he tries to imagine a panorama of judicial contention .

The action against California is similar to the one adopted in 2010 by the Obama Administration against Arizona; the then governor Jan Brewer had enacted the SB1070 law to intensify the fight against the undocumented population in that state. The case reached the Supreme Court, which ended up nullifying several of the clauses of that law by declaring them unconstitutional and insisted that only Congress can establish the immigration policy of the federal government.


Latin American Post | Carlos Eduardo Gómez Avella

Translated from " Trump vs. California: migración como objeto de enfrentamiento "

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