Sunday, March 11, 2018

Justice Department War Against California is Misguided

Guest blogger: Rachel Cefalu, University of San Francisco law student:

The Trump Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against the state of California seeking to overturn three laws that the state passed in 2017: SB54, AB450, and AB103. The Justice Department claims that these three laws interfere with federal immigration enforcement. However, upon close inspection of these “sanctuary policies,” it is evident that California is not interfering with immigration enforcement; rather, California is simply ensuring that immigrants are afforded dignity during immigration enforcement proceedings.

The first law at issue with the Department of Justice is SB54, also known as “The California Values Act” which prevents local authorities from telling ICE agents when jailed immigrants are due to be released and from turning them over directly to federal custody. The second law, AB450, bars private employers from allowing immigration officials seeking to conduct raids on their places of business from allowing immigration officials into non-public areas of a workplace, unless agents have a warrant authorized by a federal judge. The third law, AB103, allows the California State Attorney General the authority to inspect federal detention facilities to ensure that conditions meet health and safety standards in federal immigrant detention facilities, including privately-run detention centers that contract with the government. AB103 also prohibits cities or counties from entering into new contracts with the federal government for immigrant detention facilities, and from modifying existing detention contracts to add bed space for additional detainees.

In his message that he delivered at the California state capitol on Wednesday, Attorney General Sessions explained that “We are simply asking California and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement.” Sessions’ asserts that California is putting the public and federal immigration agents at risk through sanctuary policies, but is that really the case?

How does allowing California the power to inspect federal detention facilities to ensure that conditions meet health and safety standards place the public and federal immigration officers at risk? The Justice Department states that where immigrants are detained is an issue that should only concern law enforcement officials, and that California is improperly interfering with a federal agency. However, ensuring that immigration agents meet higher standards of due process before engaging in actions that potentially, and often times do, violate human rights should not be such a divisive issue. The detention of immigrants, and the parole process in the United States grants exceptional discretionary power to individual immigration agents and lacks effective oversight and review which leads to severe and unacceptable human rights violations.

The detention system in the United States is incredibly problematic, particularly, because detention facilities operate under a shroud of mystique often in remote and isolated locations. Further, immigration agents frequently refuse to share information or allow visits to these facilities, resulting in the public having little knowledge of harsh conditions and rights abuses within the system. Findings indicate that conditions of many detention facilities do not meet either International Human Rights Standards or ICE guidelines. Immigration detainees are often detained in jail facilities with barbed wire alongside those serving time for serious criminal convictions. Detainees are often times exposed to inappropriate and excessive restraint, verbal abuse, have inadequate access to exercise, inadequate treatment for their medical needs, are confined for prolonged periods of time in unsanitary cells, and fed rotten food.

California is not limiting ICE’s ability to detain immigrants when it demands that detainees are afforded basic human rights. California is concerned with ensuring that there is effective and independent oversight to ensure compliance with detention standards and accountability for human rights violations. In no way by ensuring that health and safety standards are being met in detention facilities does California put immigration agents nor the public at large in danger.

I urge the public to really take a look at the three laws enacted in California that the Department of Justice has taken issue with, and to reflect on the language Attorney General Sessions uses to describe how these policies are harming immigration agents and communities. It will be interesting, to say the least, to see how this lawsuit will play out in the coming months.


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