California takes on Trump on migration

By Charles Gray Source:Global Times Published: 2018/1/8 19:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

California Senate Bill 54, otherwise known as the "Sanctuary State" law, has put California on a collision course with President Donald Trump's promise to increase pressure on illegal aliens, a pledge that has already encountered much resistance at the state level. This, along with the growing number of sanctuary cities that have passed similar laws, has seen a great deal of heated rhetoric coming from Washington, including legal threats against state and local officials who support this stance.

However, the fact is that the federal government is limited in what actions it can take against California. Trump's executive orders to suspend funding for sanctuary cities have been blocked by federal judges, and the general belief is that these executive orders will be struck down when and if the cases come to trial.

Long-standing court precedent holds that the federal government may not compel state and local agencies to directly enforce federal law. Furthermore, the president does not have the authority to unilaterally withdraw a state or local jurisdiction's federal funding, as Congress is responsible for allocating the federal budget and placing any preconditions that must be fulfilled before a state or city can receive funding.

There are a number of practical reasons for state and local authorities to be reluctant to assist in enforcing federal immigration policy. Local law enforcement organizations are dependent on fostering goodwill with local communities, and being seen as enforcing Washington's or more tellingly, Trump's immigration policy is likely to cause a breach in that relationship.

In addition, many local police agencies have complained about the extra costs associated with cooperating with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as the inconvenience of holding individuals until ICE picks up the detainees.

Still, it must be noted that this California law cannot stop immigration enforcement by ICE. The Trump administration has already stated that it will be deploying more agents to California for immigration enforcement, and the state has no legal authority to prevent that. Essentially, the primary effect of this law will be to make immigration enforcement more inconvenient and expensive for the federal government, rather than outrightly stopping enforcement activity.

But the practical effect of this move may be less important than what it says about the ever increasing political and cultural rifts in America.

Trump's hostility toward minorities and his rhetoric regarding immigration has created an atmosphere in California and similar states where the political leadership feels that they will not pay a political price for opposing an unpopular administration's policies. His continual outbursts on Twitter and other platforms, especially after a closely contested and divisive election, have demoralized moderate Republicans while energizing Democratic voters, as the recent Alabama election demonstrated. 

As for why California seems to be so willing to enter into this conflict, there are several factors at play. Beyond the domestic political support these moves have garnered, California has the largest state economy within the nation, with extensive trade with the rest of the world and a dynamic high-tech sector. In economic terms, California can effectively resist federal pressure in a way smaller states cannot. In addition, as a highly urbanized state with the most diverse population in America, Trump's nativist rhetoric has failed to gain any ground there and is in fact creating more resistance than less extreme positions might have.

It is difficult to see the future, as the Trump presidency itself was an event that surprised both the GOP and the Democratic Party. Because of that, it is hard to determine whether or not these current events represent a momentary breach between Sacramento and Washington, one that will soon be healed, or if we are seeing a long-term divergence between state and federal interests.

Much will depend on the results of the 2018 elections. Should the GOP suffer losses in Congress, perhaps seeing one or both chambers swinging toward the Democrats, Trump will be left with little ability to pursue his agenda, especially if Congressional Republicans attempt to mend fences with their Democratic compatriots.

However, should the Democratic Party's hopes for a "blue wave" election go unfulfilled, Trump may feel confident in pursuing other ways to punish California for its actions.

Regardless of the political outcome, California's current actions demonstrate just how wide the political gap has become in the US, with both parties facing voters who are more or less uninterested in compromise. Unfortunately, hopes of an immigration agreement acceptable to all parties are unlikely to survive this deep partisan divide.

The author is a freelance writer based in Corona, California. charlesgray109@gmail.com Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion



Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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