Right Opinion

Obstructing Federal Immigration Enforcement Is Wrong

Hans von Spakovsky · Mar. 19, 2018

Is history repeating itself? Consider two states and two issues, almost two centuries apart.

The first is South Carolina. It opposed the high tariffs that the federal government enacted in 1832 so strongly that it declared them unconstitutional and unenforceable within its borders. A political compromise defused the crisis at the time, but it took a civil war three decades later to put the theory of “nullification” to rest.

Fast-forward to 2018 and the battle over immigration. “Sanctuary” areas have popped up nationwide, most notably in California, leaving federal immigration law facing a modern nullification crisis.

The U.S. Justice Department has, quite correctly, filed a lawsuit against California over three state statutes that unconstitutionally interfere with the federal government’s authority over immigration. If the courts follow the law and the Constitution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions — and the American people — will win the case.

“Sanctuary state” sounds noble, but not when we’re talking about providing a safe haven for dangerous criminals. In fiscal year 2017 alone, according to the lawsuit, federal authorities apprehended more than 20,000 aliens in California — roughly 14 percent of the aliens apprehended nationwide. How many of that number, per the lawsuit, were criminal aliens convicted of murder, rape, burglary and/or other crimes in the state after entering the country illegally? Ninety percent.

As Sessions said in a speech to the California Peace Officers Association on March 7, “California found these people dangerous enough to detain them in the first place, but then insists on releasing them back into the community instead of allowing federal officers to remove them.”

That not only defies common sense, it is reckless. Yet California state legislators, Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra apparently believe it’s better for law-abiding residents if criminal aliens who have been convicted of numerous crimes are returned to their local communities.

California’s new statutes impose a number of requirements that, as a report by the state legislature’s judiciary committee admits, are intended to frustrate “an expected increase in federal immigration enforcement actions.” For example, SB 54 restricts state law enforcement officials from providing information about the release date of criminal aliens in local custody, as well as prohibiting the actual transfer of criminal aliens to federal custody.

This directly violates a provision of federal immigration law that forbids states from restricting such an exchange of information. More importantly, however, this law endangers the lives of federal agents and the public. Having to find and pickup dangerous criminal aliens in local communities instead of at local jails “unquestionably involve[s] a greater possibility of the use of force or violence by the target … and have greater access to weapons, exposing officers, the public, and the alien to greater risk of harm[,]” according to Thomas Holman, deputy director of ICE.

A second statute, AB 103, imposes a state-run inspection system on federal facilities where illegal aliens are detained, including giving state officials access to federal records that are confidential under federal immigration law, and requiring the California attorney general to “examine due process provided” to detained aliens. This is an extraordinary attempt to regulate federal immigration detention facilities and processes, which the complaint asserts violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The third statute, AB 450, prohibits private employers from cooperating with federal immigration officials despite the requirements of federal law, which include allowing work place inspections and enforcement by federal officials to ensure that employers are not hiring illegal aliens. Xavier Becerra has already said that he will criminally prosecute employers for violating this provision, which puts employers in an obvious Catch-22: they will be unfairly prosecuted by the state for complying with federal immigration law!

As Sessions said, imagine if California passed a law forbidding employers “from cooperating with OSHA (the Occupation Safety and Health Administration) in ensuring workplace safety. Or the EPA, looking for a polluter. That would obviously be absurd.” But it “would be no different in principle from this new law enacted by California.”

Through their sanctuary policies, California and other states and cities are trying to nullify federal immigration law to create safe havens for illegal aliens, including convicted criminals who endanger the public. But as Sessions told California law enforcement officials, “There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to Gettysburg, and to the graves of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln.”


Republished from The Heritage Foundation.

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