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California governor endorses legal challenge to Trump immigration policy

Jerry Brown hopes courts will decide whether local police must enforce federal immigration law

Jerry Brown
Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) on NBC's Meet the Press. CREDIT: NBC News

Gov. Jerry Brown (D-CA) endorsed the possibility of a state lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to force local law enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, on Sunday.

Brown’s comments, on NBC’s Meet the Presscame in the wake of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement in late July that some federal justice funding will require local law enforcement agencies to certify that they’ll cooperate more extensively with federal immigration authorities.

California’s attorney general will decide whether to move forward in filing a lawsuit, Brown told host Chuck Todd, adding that the courts could help resolve the broader debate over the role of state and local law enforcement on federal immigration enforcement.

“A few judicious forums to resolve this dispute between the federal government and California –  I think – can be very helpful for the whole country, and in a dispassionate way,” said Brown. “Because this back and forth by politicians, it doesn’t really clarify some of the difficulties of the paramount law of the federal government colliding with the sovereign law of the 50 states.”

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Last spring, the California Senate passed a bill that would limit law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The so-called “sanctuary state” bill, SB 54 prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources, such as equipment or personnel, to aid federal officials to enforce immigration laws. For example, police officers would be barred from asking about immigration status or giving federal immigration authorities access to interview a detainee in custody.

State Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D), who authored the legislation, said the law would expand sanctuary city policies enacted to protect immigrants from the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration.

De León told CNN last month that he believes that undocumented immigrants will stop reporting crimes or cooperating with local police, as a result of Trump’s policies, undermining public safety.

The bill, which is being debated in the California Assembly, would establish uniform guidelines on state-federal cooperation, particularly with regard to policing, he told CNN.

“What I don’t want to do is increase crime,” de León added. “You will increase crime if local police are acting as cogs of the Trump deportation machine.”

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Brown said that he would like to see some tweaks to SB 54, but defended it in concept, saying it would lay out a set of specific legislative requirements regarding cooperation with federal immigration authorities. “The goal here is to block and not to collaborate with abuse of federal power,” he explained.

The bill is part of an effort to acknowledge the role that immigrants have played in California’s economy, Brown added, saying, “We want to make sure we help them to the extent that the law of California can coexist with the law of the United States.”

He urged a balanced approach, noting that those undocumented immigrants who commit serious crimes “have no business in the United States.”

A potential sanctuary state lawsuit sets the stage for a showdown on an issue that has been strongly debated at the local law enforcement level in California in recent years. For decades, some California probation departments turned over minors in juvenile detention to immigration authorities. Probation officials contended that federal law obliged them to refer potentially undocumented juveniles to immigration authorities and that federal regulations protect a local law enforcement agency’s right to communicate with ICE. But some legal experts believe this is a misreading of federal authority.

Brown said he thinks a judicial test could settle the longstanding issue: “It might just be very helpful to get into court and resolve this in a judicial forum rather than in the rhetoric of politicians talking past one another.”

California is not the only possible challenger to the administration’s policy. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has also announced plans to file a lawsuit.