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DOJ: Sues California Over Impeding Immigration Enforcement


The U.S. Justice Department is suing California and two top officials in the state. The federal government says California is interfering with federal immigration enforcement and violating the U.S. Constitution. We're going to get more details now with NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey, Carrie.


MARTIN: What is the Justice Department's argument here?

JOHNSON: Well, the Justice Department's focused on three laws that California passed last year which it calls a brazen interference with the federal government's power over immigration. One of these state laws bars employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration agents and forces them to notify workers in advance about any federal immigration raids that are coming. Another law covers state and local law enforcement. It says they're not able to volunteer information to Homeland Security agents about release dates for undocumented people in their custody. And the third law covers state inspections of federal centers where some of these detainees are held. The Justice Department says in all three of these cases these laws are an impermissible burden on the federal government's authority.

MARTIN: So the Trump administration has had a mixed record in the courts so far. What are the odds in this specific case?

JOHNSON: Well, the odds are actually pretty good because the feds do have a lot of power when it comes to immigration. And, Rachel, isn't this ironic? The Trump administration is using an Obama Justice Department precedent here. They're pointing to a Supreme Court case from several years ago where the Obama Justice Department sued the state of Arizona over some very punitive immigration laws that state passed. A divided Supreme Court ultimately invalidated big parts of that Arizona law on the ground that the feds do have supremacy here. The thinking is you can't have each state setting its own immigration policy. That would be unworkable.

MARTIN: I mean, it's worth pointing out the state of California has had, let's just say, some issues with Washington, D.C., recently. Can you remind us of some of the background here?

JOHNSON: Yeah. California officials and the Justice Department are already fighting in court over the Justice Department threat to deny California some access to federal law enforcement grants. And recently the mayor in Oakland, Calif., issued a warning to the immigrant community there that the feds were planning a big raid. That did not go over well at Homeland Security or the Justice Department, or even the White House.

MARTIN: So what's next here?

JOHNSON: Well, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is a big proponent of immigration restrictions, is in California today, in Sacramento, speaking to a law enforcement group. Xavier Becerra the state attorney general, a Democrat, will be speaking there, as well. He says they're going to fight this case. And Governor Jerry Brown of California says that Sessions is fomenting more political division and turmoil. He calls this move sad.

MARTIN: All right. Carrie Johnson covers the Justice Department for NPR. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.