The California Department of Justice on Wednesday clarified that its sanctuary state policies do not give state and local law enforcement agencies the ability to disregard federal law on cooperating with immigration authorities — but they do set limits on how the agencies can aid in immigration enforcement.
The department issued a 10-page guidance document to all state and local law enforcement agencies in California, attempting to detail how the agencies should respond to various requests from federal immigration authorities. California passed a law, which took effect this year, significantly curtailing how state and local governments could participate in immigration enforcement.
“We’re not going to let the Trump Administration coerce us into doing the job of federal immigration agents: we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Our guidance simply gives state law enforcement a clear sense of what the Values Act, which works in concert not conflict with federal law, requires.”
The guidance is particularly significant because the U.S. Justice Department has sued California over its various laws that benefit those in the country without documentation, alleging the measures obstruct federal law enforcement and harm public safety. The lawsuit argues that the directives are preempted by federal law and thus violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause.
The guidance document makes clear that federal law “prohibits restrictions on the exchange of information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status” and says “all California law enforcement agencies should comply with these laws.”
But it also stresses various ways in which state law limits local authorities’ ability to interface with their federal counterparts. For example, the guidance says state and local authorities should honor requests to transfer immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally to federal custody only under certain circumstances, such as if the person has been convicted of a serious or violent felony.
It also says that while state and local officials should share with immigration authorities “information regarding a person’s citizenship or immigration status,” they should not reveal any other personal information, such as a home or work address.
The document was signed by Kevin Gardner, director of the Justice Department’s Division of Law Enforcement, and indicated it was issued for Becerra. The California attorney general has said the state’s sanctuary laws are “fully constitutional” and has vowed to defend them against the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit.