California labor and allies fight Trump immigration lawsuit

March 8, 201812:48 PM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

California’s elected officials, and immigrant rights, civil rights and labor organizations, are issuing powerful challenges to the lawsuit filed March 6 by the Trump administration, claiming last year’s “sanctuary state” laws violate the U.S. Constitution and interfere with enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The suit takes aim at three California laws passed last year, limiting cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by state and local law enforcement and employers, and barring cities and counties from making new contracts to hold undocumented people solely over immigration violations.

The legal action also names California Governor Jerry Brown and the state Attorney General Xavier Becerra – both Democrats – as defendants. Observers predict the legal action will ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Department of Justice contends the Constitution gives the federal government control over enforcement of immigration laws and says California’s laws limiting those efforts can pose a threat in and beyond California.

The day after the suit was filed, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to California’s capital city, Sacramento, to address the California Peace Officers Association. Hundreds of protesters massed outside the downtown hotel where the meeting took place.

Gov. Brown quickly slammed the administration’s lawsuit with a sardonic retort: “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”

At a press conference after Sessions’ speech, Brown and Becerra upheld the legality of the challenged laws.

Brown said the lawsuit threatens innocent people, and “is about dividing America.” He called on Sessions to apologize to Californians “for trying to insert discord and division, and I might add dysfunctionality, in a state that’s really working.”

The governor said he continues to be willing to cooperate with federal officials on immigration enforcement efforts that target those who commit serious or violent crimes.

Becerra said that under the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment, California has the right to decline participation in immigration enforcement. “California is in the business of public safety,” he said. “We’re not in the business of deportation.”

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, who last year introduced the measure limiting state and local law enforcement cooperation with ICE, held a press conference with two other Democratic legislators who introduced immigrant rights measures, state Senator Ricardo Lara of Bell Gardens and Assemblymember David Chiu from San Francisco. All three are immigrants or sons of immigrants.

Also participating was Eric Holder, U.S. Attorney General under President Obama, whose law firm is now under retainer with the state Senate.

De León emphasized California’s right to “prioritize its limited resources in areas of state concern,” including how its public safety funds are spent. “If it galls the U.S. Attorney General and the President that we won’t help enforce their racist and xenophobic immigration policies, well, we say, Tough! We embrace the cultural gifts immigrants bestow on us, and their diversity. They are the backbone of our economy. And we will do everything in our legal power to protect them.”

Holder, who seeks to file an amicus brief regarding the federal lawsuit, called the suit “a political and unconstitutional attack” on California’s rights, since the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear states can’t be forced to divert their resources to help the federal government enforce federal law. “The Trump administration can pursue its self-defeating and misguided immigration policies, if that’s what it wants to do, but it cannot insist that the State of California use its money and its resources to help in that effort.”

Lara introduced the legislation blocking expansion of California’s immigrant detention facilities and barring new or extended contracts with for-profit companies for the facilities. His bill also insists on decent treatment for people held there. “Let’s not be fooled – this is jail,” he said. “People are going without care, without access to an attorney … These are rights that ICE itself has recommended should be implemented in these detention centers.”

Chiu’s legislation says employers must require proper court documents before letting immigration agents enter a workplace or obtain workers’ records and must inform workers of an impending raid. In California, he said, many workers lack immigration papers because Congress has not passed comprehensive immigration reform. He charged that with large portions of the state’s farm, restaurant and construction workers in that situation, the federal administration’s goal “is to disrupt the world’s sixth largest economy.”

Immigrant and civil rights groups were also quick to weigh in.

The ICE Out of California Coalition of over 20 organizations called the suit “an attack on our nation’s values of equality and compassion … Now is the time for all Californians to stand up to federal abuses of power and blatant attempts at political retaliation.”

Noting that the state is home to 2.6 million undocumented immigrants, over 400,000 of whom are Asian American, Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus said, “We will do everything in our power to defend against this hateful targeting of our immigrant communities.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. Ben Margot | AP

Labor leaders were quick to comment, too. California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski called Sessions’ attacks on hardworking immigrants an attempt “to score political points for a morally bankrupt administration,” while Los Angeles County Labor Federation President Rusty Hicks declared, “The irony! For decades, Donald Trump has used the courts as a financial sanctuary for his bankrupt businesses. Now he wans to use the courts against California for daring to protect innocent people from his wanton abuse of power. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor welcomes the chance to join in the defense of our rights as Californians.”

In his speech before the California Peace Officers Association, Jeff Sessions continued his attacks on Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who last month warned city residents of impending ICE sweeps in northern California.

To Sessions’ “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda,” Schaaf replied, “How dare you distract the American people from a failed immigration system that tears apart decent families and forces the workers that our economy depends on to harvest our crops, deliver our services, and build our cities to live in fear and work under oppressed conditions. How dare you distort the reality about declining violent crime rates in a diverse, sanctuary city like Oakland to advance a racist agenda.”

Via People’s World 

California legislature sends “landmark” housing bills to governor for signature

September 29, 2017 11:28 AM CDT BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif.—Among hundreds of bills passed by the California legislature this year, and now awaiting action by Gov. Jerry Brown, is a package of bills to address the state’s long-standing and rapidly-worsening housing crisis, which affects low-income Californians most sharply. The governor has until Oct. 15 to sign or veto legislation.

Both houses of the legislature, and the governorship, are in the hands of Democrats.

Three bills heading the list would provide substantial funding for affordable housing, put an affordable housing bond issue on the 2018 ballot, and ease requirements for developers in cities not meeting state housing requirements.

  • Senate Bill 2, introduced by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, would mandate a fee of $75-$225 on real estate transactions, and could bring in over $250 million a year for low-income affordable housing and fighting homelessness. Atkins said the bill “will deliver relief to many residents who are struggling under the weight of housing instability, bring people experiencing homelessness in off the streets, and spur production of homes for people of all income levels throughout the state.”
  • SB 3, by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, would put a $4 billion affordable housing bond issue on the November 2018 ballot. $1 billion would help military veterans buy homes with no or little down-payment, while $3 billion would go to affordable housing development. Beall said his measure will result in over 70,000 new affordable housing units and create nearly 137,000 jobs.
  • SB 35, by Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, would let developers in cities not on track to meet state zoning requirements for housing at all income levels bypass local government review. The bill would require prevailing wages on buildings of more than nine units. Wiener called the package of bills “a very healthy down payment” toward addressing the state’s housing shortage, but warned that it will take “years of sustained focus and work” to overcome California’s massive housing shortage.

Among a dozen other bills in the legislative package, passed by the state Senate and Assembly, are measures to increase effective enforcement of state housing laws and requirements, remove barriers to housing development at all income levels, strengthen local housing planning laws, and provide more affordable housing for farmworkers across California.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, called the package now on the governor’s desk “landmark measures to help those with the fewest options when it comes to housing.” And Gov. Brown has said through a spokesperson that he supports all the bills. Some of the versions awaiting his signature are the result of serious negotiations in which he played a part.

The present dire situation for housing in California has a long history.

For decades, the building of new housing has lagged far behind need, with the greatest gap affecting housing affordable to those with low incomes. Among the contributing factors: cities and towns largely determine where and what kinds of housing can be built. Many have felt pressures from residents who don’t want those with lower-incomes, or people of color, in their neighborhood.

Rapid growth of the high-tech industry in some parts of the state has brought sudden population expansion to urban areas.

Land in California’s coastal areas can cost several times as much per acre as it does in other large urban areas around the country, and state laws mandating that communities earmark land for housing at all income levels haven’t been consistently enforced.

An important factor, housing experts say, was the passage of Proposition 13, a state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1978, freezing property taxes at 1975 levels plus 2 percent a year for “inflation,” and limiting reassessment of property value to times when ownership changes or new construction is undertaken. Prop. 13 gave the state the responsibility of distributing property tax revenues to localities, and any new or increased state tax requires a two-thirds vote in both legislative houses. In the years since, numerous attempts to remove or change Prop. 13 have failed.

Statewide, median monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,750, and a two-bedroom unit costs $2,110, with rents soaring far higher in the state’s largest cities. With the current median cost to buy a home $565,000—and higher in coastal areas—ownership is rarely possible for those with lower- or even middle-incomes. Housing costs are considered a major factor in California having the highest poverty rate of any state, with one in five Californians living below the U.S. Census Bureau’s “supplemental poverty threshold” in the last few years.

A study by the University of California, Berkeley, released earlier this month found that some 56 percent of voters have thought about moving because of soaring housing costs. Many have considered leaving the state. Across California, nearly half of voters—and nearly two-thirds in the San Francisco Bay Area—say the crisis is serious.

Housing analysts are calling this year’s package of bills the state’s most ambitious move in many decades, but warn that the measures will take years to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, rents and home prices are likely to keep moving upwards, and affordable housing advocates are vowing to keep up the struggle.

Via People’s World