The Trump administration dramatically escalated its war with so-called sanctuary states Monday, filing suit against California and New Jersey over laws that federal officials say undermine immigration enforcement.
The Justice Department suits target a California law banning privately run detention centers and a New Jersey law limiting cooperation with federal immigration authorities. The new barrage of litigation also included a suit against a county in Washington state that effectively prohibits federal contractors from using the Seattle airport to carry out deportations.
“In various jurisdictions, so-called ‘progressive’ politicians are jeopardizing the public’s safety by putting the interests of criminal aliens before those of law-abiding citizens,” Attorney General Bill Barr said as he announced the moves during a speech to a sheriffs‘ group in Washington.
“They have put in place policies and laws designed to thwart the ability of federal officers to take custody of these criminals and thereby help them escape back into the community. They often proudly brand their jurisdictions as ‘sanctuaries,’and package their obstructive policies in idealistic and misleading rhetoric about “protecting the immigrant community.”
Barr said the actions by the state and local governments run afoul of the Constitution, which has been interpreted to give the federal government control over immigration policy.
The new lawsuits against the states appear to be part of a growing assertiveness on the part of the Trump administration against so-called sanctuary cities and states. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would no longer enroll New York residents in trusted traveler programs like Global Entry and Nexus because of a new state law limiting DHS officials’ access to drivers license and vehicle registration information. The law was enacted as part of legislation aimed at granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.
State officials have branded the Trump administration moves as political ones aimed at firing up Trump’s base as he battles to be re-elected this November.
“Once again, the Trump administration is sacrificing public safety for political expedience,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement. “It’s no surprise that the President, facing re-election, has suddenly decided to challenge a policy we first announced in 2018. What’s disappointing is that my former colleagues at the Justice Department have agreed to go along with this election-year stunt.”
The litigation over the immigration-related conflicts is intensifying and flowing in both directions. Earlier Monday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed suit over the DHS move against her state, saying Empire State residents were being targeted for arbitrary and political reasons.
“New Yorkers will not be held hostage by an administration intent on restraining the sovereign rights of states, while it simultaneously enacts discriminatory policies across the country,” James said.
The suits filed Monday are not the first such actions by the Trump administration. In March 2018, the Justice Department sued California over three sanctuary-related state laws.
A federal district judge in Sacramento largely sided with the state. Last year, an appeals court panel backed most of the judge’s ruling, while sending one issue back to the lower court for reconsideration.
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