Supreme Court Keeps California’s Bold Sanctuary Law Intact

By Nithya Nathan‑Pineau​, Policy Attorney & Strategist at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

As the country and world unite to stand in solidarity with Black lives and rise up against police brutality and racism — the Trump administration’s attacks on our communities have been persistent and unabating. Trump’s attack on immigrants was dealt a major defeat on Monday, June 15th, when the Supreme Court announced that it would not take up the Trump administration’s lawsuit challenging certain provisions of the California Values Act, also known as the California’s “sanctuary law” or SB 54. Passed in 2017, the California Values Act limits the involvement of state and local police forces in immigration enforcement, setting a minimum standard to ensure local resources are not used to extend the reach of Trump’s deportation machine.

Prior to arriving on the Supreme Court’s desk, both the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. District Court had fully upheld the law in earlier rulings. The Trump administration, however, was relentless in its attacks — and this came as no surprise. Since the first days of his campaign and throughout his entire presidency, Trump has made it clear that attacking sanctuary cities is a central tenet of his administration’s efforts to arrest, detain, and deport as many immigrants as possible.

The win in the Supreme Court was a major one, but the fight for sanctuary is not over.

Lawsuits that seek to undermine sanctuary jurisdictions continue to wind their way through the federal court system. The Trump administration has attacked funding for sanctuary jurisdictions by attempting to impose conditions that would require the jurisdictions to engage in federal immigration enforcement and cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Seventh Circuit issued a nationwide injunction on the conditions imposed by the administration. Several other Circuit courts have weighed in and are in line with the Seventh Circuit. Unfortunately, the Second Circuit’s earlier contradictory decision upholding the policy means these lawsuits could eventually draw attention from the Supreme Court. These cases are of concern because they create precedent on the role of the federal government in coercing, and sometimes forcing, jurisdictions into cooperating and colluding with ICE to enforce its anti-immigrant agenda. However, federal law enforcement grants to state and local law enforcement agencies, overall, ran afoul of efforts to defund the police to protect the lives of Black people and other people of color.

The administration’s attacks on sanctuary have also extended beyond the courts. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration has seized upon the global instability to escalate its actions against localities that refuse to cooperate with its federal immigration enforcement agenda. Along with attacking funding for sanctuary jurisdictions, Trump has also attacked these jurisdictions by further militarizing interior enforcement.

Back in February when the Trump administration knew about the scope of the pandemic but sat on its hands, ICE announced it had enlisted an elite tactical unit of the Border Patrol, BORTAC, to carry out raids against immigrants in sanctuary jurisdictions. Home raids threaten already over-policed immigrant communities and present a public health risk in jurisdictions where residents have been ordered by local governments to stay in their homes to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Furthermore, the threat of widespread arrests means ICE is directly contributing to the ongoing public health crisis — detention centers, jails, and prisons have a high burden of COVID-19 cases. In ICE detention, like all forms of incarceration, people are kept close together by design, making distancing impossible. Numerous reports have documented the abysmal or nonexistent healthcare detainees can access. Detained people have also denounced the lack of critical essentials like masks and soap in immigration detention.

Targeting people in their homes and then delivering them to these dangerous facilities increases the risk of exposure and infection for everyone involved. By continuing and escalating enforcement tactics against immigrants, the Trump administration is advancing a dangerous, inhumane agenda on a vulnerable population and putting surrounding communities at risk, too.

The continued actions by the federal government against immigrants and the laws that protect them show that this administration will stop at nothing — not even a pandemic — to rid this country of the immigrant communities that call the United States home. The Supreme Court’s blow against the Trump administration’s attacks on sanctuary is a major victory, but as these threats continue, cities and jurisdictions must continue to stand firm in their resistance, remembering that the momentum and the law are on our side and the wellbeing of our communities depends on it.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center works nationally to shape immigration law/policy and advance the rights of immigrants.

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