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Supreme Court rejects Trump’s challenge to ‘sanctuary’ law

The case involves a California law that barred state and local resources from being used to help federal immigration officials

The border fence in El Paso, Texas, looking into Mexico.
The border fence in El Paso, Texas, looking into Mexico. (Jinitzail Hernández/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court on Monday denied the Trump administration’s attempt to challenge California’s so-called sanctuary law that limits local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., were the lone dissenters who said the court should have taken up the case, U.S. v. California. 

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement he was “heartened” by the decision.

“We’re protecting Californians’ right to decide how we do public safety in our state,” he said. “The Trump Administration does not have the authority to commandeer state resources.” 

The White House did not immediately comment on the decision. 

The case involves a California law which then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed in 2017. The far-reaching law put in place various policies that collectively bar state and local resources from being used to assist federal immigration enforcement efforts. 

The Trump administration challenged the California law in 2018. After losing its appeal at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019, the administration asked the Supreme Court to intervene. The high court’s decision not to take it up keeps the law intact and marks the latest legal failures for the Trump administration in its effort to punish sanctuary jurisdictions. 

Trump and other administration officials have argued sanctuary policies encourage lawlessness and make Americans unsafe, often highlighting individual examples of crimes allegedly committed by undocumented individuals during press conferences and campaign rallies.

At his 2020 State of the Union, Trump called California’s sanctuary law “outrageous” and praised a bill introduced by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, that would allow people to sue such jurisdictions. The bill has no clear pathway since it lacks support among Democrats who hold a majority in the House.

The latest coronavirus relief package passed by the House in May contains a provision restricting the federal government from punishing sanctuary jurisdictions that could be a flashpoint during negotiations.

Soon after this year’s State of the Union address, the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued subpoenas to several jurisdictions that withhold certain types of information about immigration status from the agency. In an unprecedented move, the administration also froze the trusted traveler program applications for New Yorkers over the state’s sanctuary policies — and split its congressional delegation along partisan lines. 

The Trump administration has also tried to penalize sanctuary jurisdictions by threatening to withhold federal grant money until they cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but has so far been unsuccessful. Several lawsuits have challenged these attempts, and all but one has so far resulted in favorable rulings for the administration.  

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