U.S. Justice Department Sues California Over Sanctuary State Laws

Employers had protested state law to block federal immigration agents from workplaces

By Allen Smith, J.D. Mar 7, 2018

​The United States Department of Justice sued California on March 6 over three "sanctuary state" laws, including one that makes it unlawful for local businesses to let U.S. immigration enforcement authorities access employee records without a court order or subpoena, The New York Times reported.

The other two laws prohibit local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody and create a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers, according to the Los Angeles Times. We've gathered articles on this lawsuit from SHRM Online and other trusted media outlets.

State Attorney General Warnings

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned businesses in January that they would be prosecuted if they did not follow the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, which bans businesses from voluntarily sharing information about employees with federal immigration agents. (Los Angeles Times)

Law Creates Compliance Challenges

The act, which is also referred to as AB 450, was unpopular with some businesses as soon as it was proposed. Businesses complained that the legislation would make it difficult to know when they could refuse a federal agent's request to review their records. (SHRM Online)

SHRM Met with Attorney General to Clarify Law

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and its affiliate the Council for Global Immigration, had opposed the measure, arguing that the bill, while well-intentioned, would create many logistical challenges for HR. After the bill was enacted on Oct. 5, 2017, SHRM met with California's Office of the Attorney General to discuss compliance questions that SHRM members have raised. (SHRM Government Affairs)

FAQs Released

In response to the many questions from the business community, the California Office of the Attorney General released frequently asked questions (FAQs) on the new law in February. The FAQs note that employers that voluntarily consent to the entry of an immigration enforcement agent to a work area are subject to penalties of $2,000 to $5,000 for a first violation and penalties of $5,000 to $10,000 for each subsequent violation. The FAQs also state that AB 450 does not prohibit an employer from challenging the validity of a subpoena or judicial warrant in court. (California Department of Justice)

'Political Stunts'

California Gov. Jerry Brown, D, called the lawsuits against the three challenged laws "political stunts." But U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a news statement, "Our duty at the Department of Homeland Security is to enforce and uphold the nation's security laws as passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the president. California has chosen to purposefully contradict the will and responsibility of the Congress to protect our homeland." (USA Today)

More Lawsuits Possible

Justice Department officials said they have not ruled out the possibility of suing other local governments whose policies interfere with federal immigration enforcement efforts. Colorado, Illinois, New York, Oregon and Vermont have state sanctuary laws, as do many cities. (The New York Times)


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