Client Alert: State Senate Proposes Statewide Immigration Sanctuary Bill

The California State Senate proposed Senate Bill 54 this week in response to President Trump’s Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States (the “Order”). The Order aims to augment national immigration enforcement and crack down on sanctuary cities.

Sanctuary Cities and Federal Grants

Several cities and counties across the country employ policies limiting the enforcement of federal immigration statutes and regulations. These so called “sanctuary cities” do not assist the federal government in enforcing immigration laws and provide a safe harbor for illegal immigrants by refusing to prosecute individuals based on their immigration status. In an attempt to quell the presence of these cities, President Trump signed the Order, which grants the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security the discretion to deny sanctuary cities federal grants.

Senate Bill 54

In response to President Trump’s federal grant threats, the California Legislature doubled down and proposed Senate Bill 54, known as the “California Values Act” (“SB 54”). SB 54 prohibits all state and local law enforcement agencies from engaging in immigration enforcement, with minor exceptions to comply with federal law, thereby declaring California and each of its each local agencies a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.

As a sanctuary state, California would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from engaging in immigration enforcement activity. For instance, under SB 54, law enforcement agencies could not inquire into an individual’s immigration status, hold an individual per a federal “hold request”, or assist any federal agent in searching for an illegal alien. SB 54 further prohibits law enforcement agencies from using department money, facilities, property, equipment, or personnel to enforce federal immigration laws.

Federal law requires local agencies to supply the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status of any individual. SB 54 carves out an exception allowing local agencies to comply with this federal law, but forbids all other immigration enforcement activity. According to Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), the author of SB 54, the exception protects the bill from federal preemption.

Model Policies

SB 54 tasks the California Attorney General with drafting model policies for limiting immigration enforcement to the fullest extent possible, consistent with federal and state law, applicable to public schools, public health facilities, courthouses, and shelters. The policies aim to ensure such facilities remain accessible to all California residents, regardless of immigration status. The Attorney General will publish the policies within three months of SB 54’s enactment. Public schools, public health facilities, and courthouses must implement the model policies, but no timeline requires implementation by a certain date.

Effect of SB 54 and the Order

It is not yet clear how SB 54 will affect the ability of local agencies to receive federal grant funds. The Order does not indicate whether the federal government can cut existing funding, or if it only applies to future grants; however, by the broad terms of the Order, the federal government can seemingly cut all non-law enforcement federal grants to sanctuary cities.

The Order can be overturned by the Supreme Court, and several major cities vowed to challenge the Order if any funding is actually cut. Notably, the City of San Francisco filed a lawsuit on January 31, 2017, alleging the Order exceeds the President’s power and violates the Constitution.

Local agencies will likely be caught in the cross-fire if the legislature passes SB 54. However, substantial doubt surrounds the legitimacy of the Order and whether it can broadly threaten federal grant ineligibility under the Constitution.

As always, if you have any questions on this issue, please contact Douglas L. White at (916) 468-0947, doug@churchwellwhite.com, Nubia I. Goldstein at (916) 468-0946, nubia@churchwellwhite.com, or Chris LaGrassa at (916) 468-0626, christopher@churchwellwhite.com.