WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court refused Monday to consider the Trump administration’s challenge to a California law limiting state and local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The case, which would have been heard next fall or winter, raised the broad issue of whether state and local governments can effectively provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants threatened with arrest or deportation.
California has taken the lead in providing sanctuary to certain undocumented immigrants, but it is not alone. States such as New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Washington have taken the federal government to court, as have cities from Philadelphia to Chicago to Seattle.
The Trump administration in February ramped up its pressure on so-called sanctuary communities, touting a new round of legal challenges in Washington state and New Jersey in an attempt to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement authorities.
“We will consider taking action against any jurisdiction or any politician who unlawfully obstructs the federal enforcement of immigration law,” Attorney General William Barr warned in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association.
A federal appeals court last year upheld the California law under the theory that the Trump administration cannot “commandeer” state governments to take actions they oppose. That followed a district court ruling that said when a state refuses to help immigration authorities, “standing aside does not equate to standing in the way.”
Associate Justices Clarance Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from the decision not to hear the administration’s challenge. President Donald Trump’s two high court nominees, Associate Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, did not register dissents.
The Justice Department argued that by allowing federal immigration officials access to undocumented immigrants, the state simply needs to remain neutral. Instead, it told the Supreme Court, “the state law openly seeks to undermine federal immigration enforcement.”
“When officers are unable to arrest aliens – often criminal aliens – who are in removal proceedings or have been ordered removed from the United States, those aliens instead return to the community, where criminal aliens are disproportionately likely to commit crimes,” Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued in court papers. “That result undermines public safety, immigration enforcement, and the rule of law.”
California responded by citing its police powers. “Undue entanglement with immigration enforcement can deter victims and witnesses from reporting state crimes and divert limited resources from other activities that the legislature has determined will better protect local public safety,” the state argued.
More than 300 jurisdictions across the nation are considered immigration sanctuaries in some fashion, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors restricting immigration.
Hundreds of additional cities and counties decline to tell federal immigration authorities about possible illegal immigrants in their custody and refuse to comply with detainer orders.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Kristine Phillips