Indiana Attorney Curtis Hill on Friday joined U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Trump administration’s ongoing legal battle with California over immigration.
Sessions dramatically escalated tensions last week by suing California over its so-called sanctuary state law and clashing with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in a fiery exchange of words.
The complaint, The United States of America v. The State of California; et al., 18-264, was filed March 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. The suit cites the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution in seeking a declaration invalidating and enjoining the enforcement of certain provisions of California law.
In a statement Friday, Hill stood with Sessions’ view of the California laws, yet espoused a guarded defense of states’ rights.
“The U.S. Constitution strikes a careful balance between rights and responsibilities belonging to the federal government and those belonging to the individual states,” said Hill. “While we in Indiana will always defend states’ rightful exercise of their powers under the constitutional principles of federalism, we also will support the appropriate exercise of federal authority under those same principles.”
California passed sanctuary laws in response to Trump’s promises to ramp up the deportation of people in the U.S. illegally. Sessions said several of provisions of California law prevent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers from making deportation arrests.
Hill, like Sessions, said the federal government retains jurisdiction in such matters.
“National immigration policy is one area that is clearly the federal government’s domain. Efforts by the state of California to nullify or thwart national immigration law violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. I fully support the actions of (Sessions and the Department of Justice) in asserting the United States’ authority to enforce federal laws designed to protect our freedom.”
California state officials say the policies increase public safety by promoting trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while allowing police resources to be used to fight other crimes.
Hill sharply disagreed.
“In a world of increasing dangers and complexities, it is fundamental that our U.S. borders be secure and that our immigration policies are rational and consistent,” he said. “We must be safe, and we must promote the continued growth of our diverse and exceptional American culture. While changing the law through appropriate congressional action is always an option, ignoring the law can never be an option. California officials who have ostensibly sworn an oath to uphold the law are now flagrantly and unjustifiably breaking the law and in turn exposing their people to untold dangers. The actions taken by the Department of Justice are not against California but for the rule of law.”
The California state laws in question prohibit employers from letting immigration agents enter work sites or view employee files without a subpoena or warrant, and prevent local governments from contracting with for-profit companies and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants, among other things.
Sessions was defiant Wednesday as he addressed the 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day Hosted by the California Peace Officers’ Association in Sacramento, California.
“I can’t sit by idly while the lawful authority of federal officers are being blocked by legislative acts and politicians,” he said, straying from his prepared remarks.
Brown didn’t hold back in his response. The governor and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration numerous times, held a news conference just blocks from where Sessions spoke at a hotel.
In a press conference at the California State Capitol, Brown called Sessions a liar and said it was unprecedented for the attorney general to “act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer.” He accused Sessions of “going to war” with California to appease Trump.
“What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true, and I call upon him to apologize to the people of California for bringing the mendacity of Washington to California,” Brown told reporters.
ICE has said it will increase its presence in California, and Sessions wants to cut off funding to jurisdictions that won’t cooperate.
The U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the federal government’s primacy in enforcing immigration law when it blocked much of Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law on similar grounds. In Arizona et al. v. United States, 567 U.S. 4 (2012), the high court found several key provisions undermined federal immigration law, though it upheld a provision requiring officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally.