Justice Department Sues California Over Impeding Immigration Enforcement The new federal lawsuit against California escalates a long-running battle between the Trump administration and state officials on matters from immigration to climate change.


Justice Department Sues California Over Impeding Immigration Enforcement

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Late-breaking news out of California tonight - the U.S. Justice Department is suing the state and its top officials. The federal government says California is interfering with federal immigration enforcement and violating the Constitution. Here with me to talk about the case is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.


KELLY: So no secret that Trump administration officials and California officials have been at odds. What is this latest lawsuit about?

JOHNSON: The U.S. Justice Department is targeting three laws that California passed last year, in essence calling them a brazen interference with the federal government's sweeping power over immigration issues. One state law bars employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration agents and forces them to notify employees in advance about any immigration raids. Another law covers state and local law enforcement. It says they're not able to volunteer information to the Department of Homeland Security or ICE agents about release dates of undocumented immigrants in their custody. And the third law covers state inspections of those federal centers where detainees are held. The U.S. Justice Department says all three of those laws are an impermissible burden on federal authority.

KELLY: Well, what are the odds that the Justice Department will prevail here? I mean, fair to say that the Trump administration has a mixed record so far in federal court.

JOHNSON: Very much a mixed record, but the odds here may be pretty good. It's true the feds have a lot of power when it comes to immigration. An irony alert - the Trump Justice Department is using a precedent from the Obama administration (laughter) here.

KELLY: Aha, it all comes around.

JOHNSON: Yeah, it does. They're talking about a Supreme Court case from several years ago where the Obama Justice Department sued Arizona over some very punitive immigration laws that Arizona had passed. A divided Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 to invalidate some big parts of that Arizona law on the grounds that the federal government has supremacy here, that the feds trump state law. And the reasoning is that you can't have each state setting its own immigration policy. It's just unworkable.

KELLY: Well, and back to this case, which is the latest in a series of skirmishes really between California and Washington, specifically on immigration, I mean, what's the backdrop here?

JOHNSON: Yeah, the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, is already fighting with the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions, over the Justice Department's threat to deny California access to federal law enforcement grants. The Justice Department says if you don't comply with federal law on immigration and share information about detainees, you shouldn't get law enforcement money from the federal government. And recently, Mary Louise, the mayor in Oakland, Calif., issued a warning to the immigrant community there that the feds were planning a big raid. That really angered the Department of Homeland Security, did not go over well at the Justice Department or the White House either.

KELLY: What about Attorney General Jeff Sessions? What kind of role is he playing in this case?

JOHNSON: Attorney General Jeff Sessions is no fan of immigration measures that allow more people to come to the U.S.

KELLY: Right.

JOHNSON: In fact, in the Senate, he was one of the biggest foes of immigration that existed back then. He's going to Sacramento on Wednesday to speak with a law enforcement group there. He's going to pledge to fight what he calls unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies. Also speaking at that law enforcement conference is the attorney general of California, Xavier Becerra, who's no shrinking violet. So expect some big fireworks tomorrow.

KELLY: Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

KELLY: That's NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson talking about this late-breaking news out of California. The Justice Department is suing the state and its top officials tonight.

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