Is a 'sanctuary state' constitutional?

The so-called Sanctuary State bill passed the senate and if it becomes law it would ban state and local police from enforcing immigration laws. (April 7, 2017)

Last Monday, the California Senate passed Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León’s California Values Act, also known as the "sanctuary state" bill.

Sen. de León called SB 54 "a rejection of President Trump’s false and cynical portrayal of undocumented residents as a lawless community.” If approved, the law would prohibit state and local law enforcement from using resources at their disposal to enforce immigration laws and would leave enforcement solely to ICE.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones has repeatedly said his agency will not enforce federal immigration laws. Again, during an interview last week, he insisted that his deputies will not train with ICE to act as border patrol agents.

"We don’t do that, never have done that, are not going to do that, at least as long as I’m sheriff," Sheriff Jones said. "We’re not going to do it."

However, on the subject of the "sanctuary state" bill, Jones said, every sheriff like him is going to be in a, "very weird sort of precarious position" if SB 54 passes in its current form, "even with the amendments." 

"You have state law, you have federal law, we can comply with one, we can comply with the other we can comply with neither, but we cannot possibly comply with both," Jones said.

Federal law preempts SB 54, he added, because immigration, "is a constitutionally allocated function of the federal government."

“A lot of people compare it to marijuana laws," Jones said. "I don’t see it as the same because drug enforcement is not a sole function of the federal government. It’s not good to have conflicting laws, but there’s no constitutional prohibition. There’s no preemption.”

We talked to Luis Céspedes, chair of the advisory committee at the Sacramento Safe Haven task force, about Jones' comments. Céspedes cited the Supreme Court decision on Arizona's SB 1070, saying it is "absolutely incorrect" that it would be preempted by federal law.

"States cannot create their own regulatory system in immigration law, that’s an exclusive jurisdictional issue with the federal government under the supremacy law," Céspedes said. "But we can voluntarily choose, as Justice Kennedy said, to become immigration agents if you’re properly trained. California, like many local law enforcement agencies, including the sheriff, has decided not to do that."

On the topic of constitutionality, Céspedes discussed a lawsuit filed by the County and City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County against President Donald Trump, challenging the constitutionality of his Executive Order.

"The cities have argued that you cannot commandeer local law enforcement with the threat of withholding federal funds to enforce immigration law," Céspedes said. "That’s a violation of the 10th amendment and potentially the due process clause and the equal protection clause."

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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