Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement last week that the Justice Department is suing California over its so-called sanctuary policies is the latest escalation in the conflict between the Golden State and the Trump administration.

Speaking at the 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day hosted by the California Peace Officers’ Association, Sessions strongly denounced California’s efforts to obstruct the work of federal immigration agents.

“Contrary to what you might hear from the lawless open-borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland or anyone else to enforce immigration laws,” Sessions said. “We are simply asking California and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement.”

The lawsuit, filed March 6, seeks to block three state laws enacted last year.

The first is the Immigrant Worker Protection Act which among other things prohibits employers in California from allowing ICE agents into their workplace without a warrant. The law carries steep financial penalties of up to $10,000 for employers who voluntarily allow ICE into their place of business.

Whatever one thinks about immigration policy, this state law clearly thrusts employers into a conflict between the state and federal government. At the very least, the idea that the state can force, under threat of prosecution, business owners to defy federal immigration agents seems like a misplaced effort.

Another law under challenge by the Justice Department is Assembly Bill 103, which directs the state attorney general to inspect immigration detention facilities in California. The law, passed in response to concerns about the treatment of immigrant detainees, who aren’t necessarily guilty of any crime, is challenged by the Justice Department as an attempt to regulate federal immigration detention.

While California’s concern for immigrant detainees is understandable, and detention should be humane and reasonable, it is easy to see how AB103 oversteps California’s authority.

The third law being challenged is Senate Bill 54, the so-called “sanctuary state” bill which restricts the information state and local law enforcement officials can provide to federal immigration authorities. While the law includes some exceptions for immigrants convicted of certain, serious crimes, the Justice Department argues the law “interferes with federal immigration authorities’ ability to carry out their responsibilities under federal law.”

Here there is likely to be the most significant legal battle.

While SB54 is largely political theater that has done more to make California a target for immigration enforcement than anything else, the federal government should not be able to commandeer state and local police to enforce federal immigration law. But to what extent SB54 or what Sessions would like to see can hold up in court remains to be seen.

The escalation of this political and legal battle between California and the federal government has been inevitable. With millions of undocumented immigrants living in California, and a Congress still unable to put together even the most modest of immigration reforms into place, it is a conflict which is likely to persist for some time.

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