Updated at 1:56 p.m. PST
A federal judge has refused to block enforcement of large portions of three California laws aimed at limiting state and local agencies’ cooperation with the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigration.
U.S. District Judge John Mendez of the Eastern District of California rejected the U.S. Justice Department’s request for a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of laws allowing the state attorney general to inspect federal detention facilities and to limit the information jails and prisons share with immigration agents about undocumented inmates.
“A state’s decision not to assist in those activities will always make the federal object more difficult to attain than it would be otherwise. Standing aside does not equate to standing in the way,” Mendez wrote.
Mendez did say the federal government is likely to succeed in its challenge to parts of one law, AB 450, which attempted to bar voluntary cooperation between employers and immigration officials. The judge said the state cannot bar a business from voluntarily granting access to private worksite areas, nor can it stop employers from re-verifying a worker’s employment status or restrict their decision to voluntarily provide access to certain employee records.
Mendez did uphold a requirement in AB 450 that employers give their workers notice of an upcoming inspection of their eligibility documents.
“This court finds that AB 103, SB 54, and the employee notice provision of AB 450 are permissible exercises of California’s sovereign power,” Mendez wrote. “With respect to the other three challenged provisions of AB 450, the court finds that California has impermissibly infringed on the sovereignty of the United States.”
The lawsuit, filed under the leadership of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, was part of a broad crackdown by the Trump administration against unlawful immigration. A Justice Department spokesman said in a statement:
“When they passed SB 54, AB 103, and AB 450, California’s political leadership clearly intended to obstruct federal immigration authorities in their state. The preliminary injunction of AB 450 is a major victory for private employers in California who are no longer prevented from cooperating with legitimate enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. While we are disappointed that California’s other laws designed to protect criminal aliens were not yet halted, the Justice Department will continue to seek out and fight unjust policies that threaten public safety.”
The ruling marks a significant victory for California’s Democratic leaders, who had argued that the state could enforce its own workplace and safety laws without infringing on the federal government’s leading role in immigration enforcement.
“Today, a federal judge made clear what we’ve known all along, that SB 54 … is constitutional and does not conflict with federal law,” Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, the author of SB 54, wrote on Twitter. “As the judge says in his order, ‘standing aside does not equate to standing in the way.’”
Mendez said his ruling was made without “concern for any possible political consequences. It is a luxury, of course, that members of the other two branches of government do not share.” The judge continued: “But if there is going to be a long-term solution to the problems our country faces with respect to immigration policy, it can only come from our legislative and executive branches. It cannot and will not come from piecemeal opinions issued by the judicial branch.”
Mendez, concluding his ruling, urged Congress to take action on immigration.
“This court joins the ever-growing chorus of federal judges in urging our elected officials to set aside the partisan and polarizing politics dominating the current immigration debate and work in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion toward drafting and passing legislation that addresses this critical political issue,” Mendez wrote. “Our nation deserves it. Our Constitution demands it.”
We’ve posted the court’s ruling in United States v. California here:
This report was updated with additional comment about the ruling.