California’s “Sanctuary State” Laws Threaten Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Agenda

Thumbs down! (Photo by Kevin Warn)

By Daniel Millán

The Trump administration continues its attack on immigrants by challenging California’s so-called “sanctuary laws.” On Mar. 6, Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed a lawsuit against the state’s relatively new laws and policies meant to protect the rights of immigrants. The California Values Act, or Senate Bill 54, which prevents local police from informing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) when an undocumented immigrant will be released from their custody particularly drew the ire of Sessions. 

The lawsuit is a reminder of the administration’s anti-immigrant agenda and an example of how immigration laws and policies are shaped at the federal, state, and local level. It’s also taking on Assembly Bill 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which prevents employers from cooperating with immigration officials to conduct raids at workplaces, and a provision in Assembly Bill 103 which allows California officials to inspect detention facilities to ensure that health and safety standards are met.

These laws are meant to limit the reach of immigration enforcement across the state and provide relatively minimal oversight of detention facilities. The Trump administration relies on a position that immigration laws are only set at the federal level. Yet, this narrow view omits the fact that immigrants are tied to individuals, families, and institutions that intersect local and state contexts. States that challenge unnecessary and extreme immigration enforcement tactics threatens the Administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

California’s attempts to alleviate exclusionary federal immigration policies can shape state policies across the nation. For example, California was one of the first states to implement an in-state tuition policy for undocumented immigrants in 2001 and a decade later, state financial aid. These policies have improved access and retention in higher education and other states followed.

Despite state policies to limit immigration enforcement efforts, cities and counties also set the tone. Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens commended the Trump administration’s lawsuit in a recent interview. The OC Sheriff’s Department continues to detain hundreds of immigrants every day across county jails. Counties collaborate with immigration officials, but their efforts can be limited when states offer protections for immigrants.

Federal policies continue to criminalize immigrants across the country and in communities where immigration enforcement is often invisible and, at times, hyper-visible. ICE is used as a tool by the Administration to enact violence against immigrants. States and cities should alleviate these attacks by implementing laws and policies that protect all immigrants. “Sanctuary laws” may only be symbolic but remind us to recognize that federal, state, and local contexts affect immigrants.

The Trump administration’s lawsuit reaffirms that pushing back against federal immigration policies is important. But inclusionary immigration laws and policies need to be set at all levels of government in order to truly be effective.

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