Catalina Ventura, a migrant worker from Fresno, holds her daughter Celeste, 3, as they joined more than 100 others demonstrating outside the federal courthouse where a federal judge will hear arguments over the U.S. Justice Department's request to block t

(Photo credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Judge Disputes California Aimed To Hinder Border Enforcement

June 20, 2018 - 3:38 pm
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A U.S. judge said Wednesday that he was not convinced California enacted protections for immigrants in the country illegally in an effort to interfere with federal immigration enforcement — potentially undercutting a key argument by the Trump administration in its lawsuit seeking to block three laws.

The laws instead appeared to be a message from the state that it didn't want to participate in federal immigration policies, U.S. Judge John Mendez said.

"We're not going along anymore, we're not participating," he said about how he read the state's motives.

Outside the courthouse in California's capital city, scores of people protested U.S. immigration policies. 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.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday ending the separations but not the policy that prosecutes all adults caught crossing illegally.

California has been a leader in opposing Trump administration policies, filing more than 50 lawsuits, mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, and notching some significant court victories. The administration has fought back, sparring with the state's Democratic leaders and criticizing their so-called sanctuary policies.

It sued California in March — a move that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown described as "going to war."

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 policies promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement. The administration says the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the street.

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.

Justice Department attorney Chad Readler told Mendez that it was clear the laws were passed to obstruct federal immigration enforcement.

"I'm not that clear and that convinced," the judge responded.

Mendez, who was nominated to the bench by Republican President George W. Bush, was not expected to immediately rule on the request to block the laws.

Mendez asked an attorney for California, Christine Chuang, why the law on detention facility inspections was necessary and whether it discriminated against federal immigration authorities.

Chuang said the Legislature wanted to "shed some light on" a particular set of detention facilities.

Mendez asked Readler how a state review of such facilities would affect federal immigration enforcement. Readler said it's up to U.S. officials to detain and house immigrants, and states have no role in inspections.

In challenging the other 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 restriction on accessing businesses eliminates a "critical enforcement tool" to fight illegal employment, they say.

The states' laws, two of which went into effect in January, follow 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.

In fighting the lawsuit, state officials argue 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, 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.