Facing Backlash Against Sanctuary Law, California Tries To Clarify How Local Police Can Work With Feds On Immigration

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter

California is seeking to clarify how far local law enforcement can go in cooperating with federal immigration authorities, amid a growing backlash from some jurisdictions against the state’s controversial sanctuary law.

In a 10-page document issued Wednesday to all state and local police agencies in the state, the California Department of Justice laid out guidance about how they should respond to requests from immigration authorities. The new rules are intended as a practical guide to complying with the California Values Act, a sanctuary state law that limits what immigration-related information state and local officials can share with federal authorities.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the guidance document helps draw the line between cooperation and active enforcement of immigration law, which is prohibited under the Values Act, also known as SB54.

“We’re not going to let the Trump Administration coerce us into doing the job of federal immigration agents — we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation,” Becerra, a Democrat, said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. “Our guidance simply gives state law enforcement a clear sense of what the Values Act, which works in concert not conflict with federal law, requires.”

The new guidelines clarify that police and sheriff’s departments may not ask about a person’s immigration status, but are allowed to share information regarding an immigrant’s legal status when they already have such information. The clarification is intended to show SB54 does not run afoul of a federal statute that prevents states from enacting laws restricting the exchange of immigration information between local agencies and the federal government.

Conversely, the guidance spells out the ways SB54 limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities. For example, state and local police can only honor immigration detention requests under certain circumstances, such as if the inmate was convicted of a serious or violent felony.

The document also clarifies that state and local police may only work with immigration agents when state law is being enforced. That restriction discourages participation in joint task forces and prevents police from identifying suspected illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

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The guidance document comes as a growing number of local and county jurisdictions in California are pushing back against SB54, arguing it usurps the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration law. A small city in Orange County voted last week to exempt itself from SB54, and other cities in the county were considering similar ordinances in protest of the law.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department joined the resistance on Monday, when it made public the release dates of jail inmates in a move aimed at skirting SB54’s restriction on notifying immigration authorities when certain criminal aliens are set to be released from custody.

President Donald Trump’s administration sued California over its sanctuary policies earlier this month, arguing SB54 and two other state laws violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause. The Orange County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to join the federal lawsuit.

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