News & Politics

California Town to Challenge State's Sanctuary Law

(Sipa via AP Images)

Orange County, California’s second smallest city, is looking to challenge the state’s sanctuary statute that limits cooperation by local authorities with federal immigration officials.

According to the Orange County Register, the city council members of Los Alamitos believe that the sanctuary law, SB54,“may be in direct conflict with federal laws and the Constitution of the United States.”

Stating that council members have taken an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, the ordinance says the council “finds that it is impossible to honor our oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States” and at the same time be in compliance with the new state law.

The proposed ordinance might be the first local attempt in California to officially challenge the law, said Kathleen Kim, a Loyola Marymount University law professor who specializes in immigrants’ rights and human trafficking.

The proposed ordinance contains “flawed argument,” Kim said Friday, March 16.  The new state law is “absolutely consistent with the U.S. Constitution,” she said.

Thankfully, immigration activists don’t decide such matters. Federal courts do. And this one will almost certainly end up before a judge somewhere.

Annie Lai, co-director of the Immigrant Rights Clinic at UC Irvine, said Los Alamitos is inviting a lawsuit if the ordinance is adopted.

“It looks like they’re setting themselves up for litigation,” she said.

One community member summed up the argument in favor of the law:

“Everyone holding elective office takes the same oath to uphold the laws to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. It doesn’t say unless the state legislature decides otherwise,” said Art DeBolt, a longtime community activist, via e-mail. “I do believe somewhere in our history, we fought a war to prevent states from ignoring the law of the land and preserving the union.”

Chaos would ensue if local governments like Los Alamitos could pick and choose which state laws to obey based on their own interpretation of the Constitution. Any law exempting the town from SB54 will almost certainly be struck down for that reason.

The suit filed by AG Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department over the constitutionality of SB54 will also have rough going because for decades the federal courts have sided with sanctuary policies. They’ve accepted the argument that local law enforcement should not be forced to become an arm of  federal immigration enforcement agencies.

But in the case of California, the state is actively obstructing federal immigration enforcement agencies from doing their jobs. This might be enough to convince a judge that the law goes too far in preventing federal authorities from enforcing the law.