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Judge Refuses To Block California Sanctuary State Law

Andrew Harnik / AP
President Donald Trump walks towards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington in this Tuesday, March 13, 2018 file photo.

A federal judge has denied a request by the Trump administration to block California’s “sanctuary state” law, designed to shield immigrants in the country without legal documentation, as well as another immigration law passed last year. But the judge did suspend the majority of a third law for impeding federal immigration agents at work places.

SB 54, passed last year, restricts how law enforcement can work with federal immigration agents. District court judge John Mendez, a George W. Bush appointee, ruled that California’s sanctuary state law likely does not obstruct the powers of the federal government.

“Refusing to help is not the same as impeding,” he said in his ruling.

CONTEXT: Explaining The Trump Versus California Immigration Lawsuit

State Senator Kevin de León, the bill’s author, introduced the measure last year in response to President Donald Trump’s election.

“This is a very huge victory for the rule of law in California and sends a very clear message to Washington,” De León said after the ruling came out.

The judge also found another new California immigration law is likely legal, but toothless. That measure directs the state attorney general to inspect immigration detention facilities. The ruling says the state had that authority prior to the law’s passage.

The ruling did find one law likely does preempt the federal government. The law imposes fines on employers who provide immigrant agents access to non-public areas of their workplaces without a warrant.

The judge approved a federal injunction on most of the law. He retained one section of it, which generally requires employers to provide notice to workers, if immigration agents plan to visit.

The Department of Justice issued a statement calling the injunction a “major victory for private employers in California who are no longer prevented from cooperating with legitimate enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.”

The statement said the agency was “disappointed” in the rest of the ruling.

Here are some key findings from the ruling:

  • Much of the argument against the legality of “sanctuary city” laws is that they violate one controversial section of federal immigration code, Section 1373. The judge did not rule specifically on it, but said, “The Court finds the constitutionality of Section 1373 highly suspect.”

  • On the “sanctuary state” law, SB 54, and if it preempts the federal government: “SB 54 does not add or subtract any rights or restrictions upon immigrants. 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 arguments are wanting on both sides,” Judge Mendez wrote about AB 450, which fines businesses if they allow immigration agents into non-public spaces without a warrant. But, he found: “These fines are a clear attempt to ‘meddl[e] with federal government activities indirectly by singling out for regulation those who deal with the government.’

  • On declining to block AB 103, which instructs the state Attorney General to inspect federal immigration detention facilities: “For all its bark, the law has no real bite. It directs the Attorney General to channel an authority he already wields to an issue of recent State interest.”

  • Judge Mendez also wrote this near the end of his ruling: “This Order hopefully will not be viewed through a political lens and this Court expresses no views on the soundness of the policies or statutes .... this one opinion will neither define nor solve the complicated immigration issues currently facing our Nation.”

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