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 legislators challenge Trump anti-immigrant agenda

December 8, 2016 10:32 AM CST  BY MARILYN BECHTEL

OAKLAND, Calif. – As their new two-year legislative session opened Dec. 5, members of California’s state Senate and Assembly moved quickly to build on post-election initiatives to protect and uphold the rights of the state’s undocumented immigrants.

2015 study by the Public Policy Institute of California estimated California’s undocumented population at 2.67 million, or nearly a quarter of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., and said they make up just over 6 percent of the state’s population. Other estimates put the figure at around 2.3 million.

Both legislative houses passed identical resolutions urging President-elect Donald Trump to form humane immigration policies, avoid mass deportations, and keep President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, policy intact.

Both resolutions sharply condemned “bigoted, racist or misinformed descriptions of the immigrant community that serve only to foment hatred and violence,” and called for a “comprehensive and workable approach to solving our nation’s historically broken immigration system.”

The resolutions noted the vital role immigrants play in the state’s industries, including technology, health care, agriculture, construction, hospitality, and domestic services, and pointed out that immigrants also make up a large percentage of small business owners, helping to create economic prosperity and jobs.

They also said undocumented immigrants make up about one-tenth of California’s workforce, account for $130 billion of the state’s gross domestic product, and pay billions in state and local taxes.

Both legislative chambers now have Democratic supermajorities. The vote in the 40-member Senate was 27-13 along party lines, with three Republicans opposing and 10 abstaining. In the 80-member Assembly, two Republicans – Brian Maienschein of San Diego and Catharine Baker of San Ramon – joined Democrats in a 57 to 14 vote.

Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, called immigrants “a part of California’s history, our culture, our society.” He noted that “they pay taxes, sometimes more than billionaires,” and are helping to make the state the world’s sixth largest economy.

“With this package of legislation we are telling the next Administration and Congress: If you want to get to them, you have to go through us,” Rendon said.

Senate President pro Tempore Kevin De Leόn, D-Los Angeles, recalled Trump’s positive comments about “Operation Wetback,” the mass deportation program of the 1950s, and warned that California will not return to such inhumane policies.

De Leόn added, “It is neither humane nor wise to ignore the many contributions of this community to our economy and culture. California celebrates diversity. We don’t deport it.”

From resolution to practical policy

Wasting no time, legislators in both Senate and Assembly introduced several bills to carry out the resolutions in practical terms.

State Senator Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, chair of the Latino Legislative Caucus, introduced a bill to create a state program to fund legal representation for noncitizens facing deportation. His office has issued a fact sheet noting that 68 percent of people in immigrant detention facilities lack legal representation, and those who are represented are over five times more successful in challenging deportation.

Hueso’s bill includes provision of a yet-unspecified amount of state funds, and would also create a fund that could accept donations.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, who chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus, introduced a bill to create state-funded regional centers to train defense attorneys and public defender’s offices on immigration law and the consequences of criminal proceedings.

Both bills were marked for urgency status, meaning they require a two-thirds majority to pass and become effective as soon as they are passed.

State Senator Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced three measures under the overall title, Fight for California.

One would require approval by California voters if Trump proposes to build a wall on the California-Mexico border costing more than $1 billion. Another would bar state agencies from sharing information on a person’s religious affiliation with federal agencies, if the information would be used to compile a database solely on religious affiliation. The third would bar local governments from hiring private for-profit companies to detain immigrants and would require detention facilities to meet basic health and safety requirements.

Lara’s parents came from Mexico, and were undocumented before they became citizens.

And De Leόn introduced a measure to bar all state and local law enforcement from investigating, detaining, or reporting individuals for immigration enforcement, and from helping federal authorities to require individuals to register on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national or ethnic origin. De Leόn said local law enforcement could still honor warrants to transfer violent offenders to federal authorities.

Immigrant rights groups signal support

Organizations engaged in immigrant rights work around the state are signaling their support for the legislature’s actions.

The San Diego Immigrant Rights Consortium said it applauds the state’s elected officials “for taking proactive measures to protect immigrants and refugees against potentially harsh immigration and enforcement policies from the incoming Trump administration.” SDIRC said “the best way to protect the wellbeing of our entire community is ensuring that people feel they can move freely in their communities without fear.”

Stewart Kwoh, who heads Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles, said California is “sending a message to President-elect Trump that we vigorously oppose his xenophobic and bigoted anti-immigrant agenda” and will do everything possible to defend and protect immigrants.

Yannina Casillas, legislative and government relations coordinator for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), called the proposed measures “concrete steps to ensure that the rights of undocumented immigrants and vulnerable immigrant communities are protected.”

Jennie Pasquarella, immigrant rights director at the American Civil Liberties Union of California, said “now more than ever, California must stand by its values of fairness and due process, and the many immigrants that call California their home.”