A federal judge refused Thursday to block California from restricting local law enforcement cooperation with immigration agents, an early legal victory for the state’s “sanctuary” law.
U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez, in rejecting the position of the Trump administration that California’s law is an attempt to stymie immigration enforcement, wrote that “refusing to help is not the same as impeding.”
“Standing aside does not equate to standing in the way,” Mendez wrote.
The judge also upheld the legality of a second California law, allowing the state’s attorney general to visit federal immigration detention centers. He rejected part of a third state law _ one that imposes fines on private business employers who voluntarily allow immigration agents into the workplace.
Mendez heard arguments from federal and state attorneys June 20 in a Sacramento courtroom. The judge said at the time that given the high-profile nature of the case, he expected his ruling would ultimately be appealed.
The marquee law of the three statutes that were challenged, Senate Bill 54, has eliminated much of the discretionary power that local law enforcement previously had to privately share information with federal immigration agents about people who have been arrested and put in county jails. Attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice argued last month that the state had no right to interfere with the enforcement of immigration law.
But Mendez’s ruling said because Congress had not explicitly required state or local cooperation, the Trump administration could not block what was otherwise the cancellation of a voluntary effort.
“SB 54 does not add or subtract any rights or restrictions upon immigrants,” the judge wrote. “Immigrants subject to removal remain subject to removal. SB 54, instead, directs the activities of state law enforcement, which Congress has not purported to regulate.”
The bill’s author, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat, said the ruling is an affirmation that California lawmakers carefully crafted the statute.
“We made it very clear that we’re not interfering in the functions of immigration authorities to execute their job,” he said.
Nor did the judge find any legal justification for blocking Assembly Bill 103, a law that opens nine detention centers in California to inspection by state officials.
One law, however, was seen as going too far. Mendez ruled that Assembly Bill 450, which forbids business owners from voluntarily allowing federal agents to inspect their work sites, should not have also imposed fines of up to $2,000 on employers. He wrote that federal immigration law doesn’t allow “additional penalties on employers” beyond those imposed by Congress.
“These fines inflict a burden on those employers who acquiesce in a federal investigation but not on those who do not,” Mendez wrote.
-By John Myers, Los Angeles Times