During a news conference on Thursday, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned that he would prosecute any employer who willingly cooperated with federal immigration raids on their businesses, slapping them with a $10,000 fine in some cases. His comments come amid threats by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, who say they’re already upping their presence in the state to “protect” communities.
“It’s important, given these rumors that are out there, to let people know — more specifically today, employers — that if they voluntarily start giving up information about their employees or access to their employees in ways that contradict our new California laws, they subject themselves to actions by my office,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee. “We will prosecute those who violate the law.”
He added that the state would issue “formal guidance” to employers regarding a law that went into effect on January 1, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which California Gov. Jerry Brown signed in October last year. The law prohibits employers from voluntarily providing ICE with confidential information about their employees and requires them to ask ICE for a warrant prior to any inspection. It also requires employers to post notice of any immigration inspection 72 hours before it takes place, and prohibits them from “reverifying the employment eligibility of a current employee” unless compelled by law.
“We’re trying to make sure employers are aware that this is 2018. There is a new law in place,” he added. “The admonition that’s out there, for anyone, is ‘ignorance of the law is no excuse if you violate it.’ And it’s important that employers in California understand [this].”
Becerra’s comments follow threats from top ICE official Thomas Homan, currently the agency’s acting director, who told Fox News host Neil Cavuto on January 2 that authorities were stepping up their presence in the state.
“If [Gov. Brown] thinks he’s protecting the immigrant community, he’s doing quite the opposite, because if he thinks ICE is going away, we’re not,” Homan said. “…There’s no sanctuary from federal law enforcement. As a matter of fact, we’re in the process now, I’m going to significantly increase our enforcement presence in California. We’re already doing it.”
He added, “California better hold on tight. They’re about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation officers in the state of California. If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
The immigration debate has intensified in recent days as a possible government shutdown looms. Despite efforts by a bipartisan group of senators to add protections for undocumented immigrants and increase the number eligible for legal permanent status as part of a stopgap spending bill — in exchange for a portion of the border wall funding that President Trump has requested — the White House has dug in its heels, refusing to budge.
Trapped in between are a number of high-profile deportations, including one immigrant who was denied asylum despite an earlier court order, and another who was too old to qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, despite being brought to the United States as a child.
“We’re devastated. We’re sad, we’re depressed,” said Cindy Garcia, wife of 39-year-old Jorge Garcia, who was brought to the United States at the age of 10 and has no criminal record. After years of efforts to keep him in the country, Garcia was deported on Monday, following a tearful goodbye with his family.
“They knew we were trying to fix his status,” his wife told reporters. “[But] the officer told us because of the new Trump administration, because he had an order of supervision and an order of deportation, [Jorge] had to leave.”
Last month, immigration officials also deported Mexican-born Carlos Bringas-Rodriguez, a gay man who had sought asylum in the United States to escape violent persecution. Earlier in March, a panel of judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted Bringas-Rodriguez asylum, stating that he had proven without a doubt that he had reason to fear for his life if returned to Mexico.
However, in December, Department of Homeland Security deported him anyway, claiming that he had “missed a court appearance for asylum — an appearance for which he never received notification,” according to the Washington Blade. Bringas-Rodriguez, who is HIV-positive, said that he was officially deported at 3 a.m. on December 22; he added that authorities simply dropped him at the border with a small supply of HIV medications to fend for himself.
On January 12, a Ninth Circuit judge reinstated his original asylum, allowing Bringas-Rodriguez to return to the United States.
“I actually never thought that I would come back,” he told ABC-affiliate KMBC. “…It made me feel horrible because I felt like I never did anything wrong. …I am [now] more fearful than I was before. That’s one of the things that hurts the most is I don’t know what’s coming next.”