Rhode Island Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin today joined a group of 13 attorneys general to defend a California law that limits when and how local law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration authorities. California passed this law to improve public safety for everyone by focusing on crime prevention and building trust between law enforcement and residents.
In an amicus brief filed in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Attorney General Kilmartin and his counterparts argue that the court should uphold California's law because states have the responsibility and the independent authority to protect public safety, regulate law enforcement, and decide how to use their limited resources.
"Community policing can only be effective if police earn the trust of those they are sworn to protect and serve. Each jurisdiction knows what is best for their citizens, and the federal government should not impose its will on states when it comes to law enforcement," said Attorney General Kilmartin.
Rhode Island and partner states filed the amicus brief today in United States v. State of California. The lawsuit was filed by the Trump administration as part of its crackdown on both legal and unauthorized immigration. It sought to strike down SB 54, a California law placing limits on how much state and local law enforcement officials can coordinate with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and enforce federal civil immigration law.
California passed SB 54, called the California Values Act, in 2018 to protect immigrant communities, improve public safety, and prevent the federal government from using local law enforcement to assist with efforts to increase deportations. The law prohibits law enforcement from transferring individuals to immigration authorities without a judicial warrant unless that person has committed a serious crime.
In 2015, by way of a Rhode Island case, the First Circuit Court of Appeals found that a person cannot be held on a civil immigration detainer absent a judicial warrant.
In March 2018, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to California to announce that he was filing a lawsuit against the state. A lower court denied his request for a preliminary injunction, and the Department of Justice has appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
In this amicus brief, the states collectively argue that California's law should be upheld because:
• States have independent authority to protect public safety: The brief notes that states have primary responsibility for protecting public safety within their borders and have broad authority to enact legislation for the public good. This includes a duty to implement policies that best serve local conditions and policy preferences, and to determine how to use local resources.
• The law does not interfere with the enforcement of federal immigration law: The states argue that declining to use state and local resources to actively participate in federal civil immigration enforcement does not create an obstacle for federal immigration enforcement.
• It is unconstitutional for the federal government to commandeer state resources: The basic principles of federalism enshrined in the Constitution mean that the federal government cannot directly order states to use their resources to enforce federal laws.
Attorney General Kilmartin was joined by attorneys general from the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, and the District of Columbia.
Today's announcement is consistent with Attorney General Kilmartin's policies on how Rhode Island law enforcement interacts with immigration officials. Earlier this year, Attorney General Kilmartin, part of a coalition of seven attorneys general, filed suit against the Trump administration to block its efforts to punish jurisdictions that did not agree to immigration-related conditions on federal law enforcement grants.
In the suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the attorneys general argued that the Trump administration's conditions on the grants interfere with the right of states and localities to set their own law enforcement policies, and that the Department of Justice lacks the authority to impose these new conditions.
Cross motions for summary judgement in the case are scheduled for oral arguments for Friday.