Will Sanctuary Laws Divide the Nation, Starting With California?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 12, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The California Senate passed a controversial sanctuary law, essentially directing local law enforcement not to report illegal immigrants to federal authorities.

The sanctuary law, which is headed to the Assembly and then the governor's desk for signature, may become the first statewide sanctuary law in the nation. In California, it would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using resources to investigate, detain, report or arrest people for immigration violations.

According to many news reports, more states are likely to follow. Law enforcement officials, who are caught in the middle, are not sure what to do.

"The federal government is going to have to step in and decide if this is worth a lawsuit, because I am not sure what we can do," said Donny Youngblood, the sheriff in Kern County and the president of the California State Sheriffs' Association. "All we are doing is providing information to the federal government so that they can do their job.

From East to West

New York, Illinois, Maryland, and Nevada have also introduced sanctuary legislation. Cities have also declared themselves sanctuaries, prompting Attorney General Jeff Sessions to threaten to withhold funding from 118 jurisdictions that have rejected immigrant detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Meanwhile, many states have sided with the administration. They are working on laws to require local governments to cooperate with authorities by holding inmates for deportation proceedings.

Gov. Gregg Abbott drew a clear line in Texas after a bill passed there to force law enforcement to honor ICE detainer requests. The New York Times reported that he has already withheld state funds from local governments that do not follow the law.

"I will not tolerate sanctuary city policies that put the citizens of Texas at risk," he said. "Elected officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will obey."

Executive Order

President Trump started the cascade powering the new sanctuary controversy when he issued an executive order on Jan. 26, 2017. He ordered the Justice Department and other agencies to target jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities to deport illegal aliens.

"Sanctuary jurisdictions across the United States willfully violate Federal law in an attempt to shield aliens from removal from the United States," the order said. "These jurisdictions have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of our Republic."

The edict hit home in California, where Sessions identified 19 counties and cities that were not cooperating with ICE. That resulted in the sanctuary bill approved in the Senate.

Bill Ong Hing, an immigration law expert and professor at the University of San Francisco law school, said sanctuary cities and states are not breaking federal laws. He said local officials are not required to collect immigration information or report it to federal officials.

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