More than 100 protestors demonstrated outside the federal courthouse where a federal judge will hear arguments over the U.S. Justice Department's request to block three California laws that extend protections to people in the country illegally, Wednesday,

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Crowd Protests As California Fights U.S. Immigration Lawsuit

June 20, 2018 - 12:15 pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After repeatedly suing the Trump administration over U.S. immigration policies, California will find itself in an unusual position Wednesday: defending state protections for people in the country illegally against a court challenge by the federal government.

Scores of people protested the administration's immigration policies outside a courthouse in California's capital city where a judge was going to hear arguments about a federal request to block three state laws.

Some carried signs that said "Keep Families Together" and "Family Separation is UnAmerican," referring to the administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings that has separated children from their families.

One of the laws the U.S. is targeting requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. Another bars law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, and the third bars employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.

California officials say their so-called sanctuary policies promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. The administration's lawsuit says the three laws obstruct immigration enforcement efforts and allow dangerous criminals on the street.

The laws, two of which went into effect in January, follow President Donald Trump's promises to ramp up deportations. The administration has tried to crack down on "sanctuary" jurisdictions by restricting funding if they refuse to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants.

California, which this year became the second "sanctuary state," has resisted that move. The state has filed more than 50 lawsuits against the Trump administration, mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, and notched some significant court victories.

On the policy that has led to family separations, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined other top state prosecutors in sending a letter to the Justice Department this week condemning the practice as inhumane and saying it raises serious legal concerns.

The federal government argues in its lawsuit that the U.S. Constitution gives it pre-eminent power to regulate immigration, and California can't obstruct immigration enforcement efforts.

In challenging the three state laws, federal officials say they need inmate information to safely take custody of people in the country illegally who are dangerous and need to be removed. The law on detention facility inspections could lead private contractors to stop holding immigrants, and the restriction on accessing businesses eliminates a "critical enforcement tool" to fight illegal employment, they say.

"Separately and in concert, the challenged provisions have the purpose and effect of impeding enforcement of the immigration laws and impermissibly discriminating against the United States," Justice Department attorneys said in court documents.

California officials argue that the administration is trying to assume powers that have long been understood to belong to states and cannot show that the state's policies are causing harm.

There is no evidence that the law barring release dates and personal information is causing more dangerous immigrants to be freed or that detention facilities intend to end their contracts with the federal government because of the inspection requirement, the state said in court documents.

It notes that the law restricting access to work sites explicitly authorizes compliance with inspections of employment records to make sure employees are allowed to work in the U.S.

U.S. Judge John Mendez in Sacramento, who was nominated to the federal bench in 2007 by Republican President George W. Bush, was not expected to rule immediately after hearing arguments. He also will hear California's request to dismiss the lawsuit.

"The laws reflect the Legislature's best determinations on a number of critical issues, such as how the state provides for public safety, protects workers and the workplace, and safeguards all residents' rights," California said in its motion to dismiss the lawsuit.