Politics & Policy

California Is Building the Wrong Wall

ICE officers make an arrest during targeted enforcement in Los Angeles, Calif., February 2017. (Photo: Charles Reed/ICE/via Reuters)
Its new 'sanctuary state' law protects criminals and sets up barriers between local and federal law-enforcement agencies.

Much of the recent debate about immigration in America has centered on President Trump’s plan to build a wall to secure our southern border. This physical barrier is meant to protect our homeland from drug smugglers, human traffickers, would-be terrorists, and transnational gangs such as MS-13. As this debate has raged on, the state of California has been working to construct a different kind of barrier with the potential to have devastating effects.

On October 5, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill Number 54, which includes the California Values Act. This law, which will take effect in January 2018, codifies California as a “sanctuary state.” This irresponsible action presents a new set of dangers by limiting the discretion of California law-enforcement agencies to cooperate with federal officials for immigration-enforcement purposes. It also specifically prohibits California law-enforcement agencies from assigning officers to work on task forces “for purposes of immigration enforcement.”

While this may be a successful attempt to score points with the far-left base of the Democratic party, it could bring unintended and negative consequences that would threaten the safety of our citizens. Moreover, California already has a dangerous history of refusing to work with federal officials: Some local jurisdictions have declared themselves “sanctuary cities.”

In 2015, many Americans became familiar with the story of Kate Steinle, a young woman shot and killed by an illegal alien who had been previously deported five times. He had returned illegally to the U.S. once again but was protected by San Francisco’s “sanctuary” status. This horrifying tragedy is an example of what can happen when local, state, and federal law-enforcement agencies don’t work together.

We cannot allow this kind of dysfunction to continue. Unfortunately, there are still many jurisdictions that are voluntarily putting up dangerous roadblocks to cooperation.

One of the tools that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can use to fight crime stemming from illegal immigration is known as a “detainer.” This is a request to a local law-enforcement agency to either hold an individual already in its custody or notify ICE when an individual in custody is due to be released.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced that 318 detainer requests had been denied in just a three-week span for individuals charged with or convicted of crimes that included assault, drug possession, burglary, and domestic violence. These cases were not confined to states along our southern border. Detainer requests were denied in Colorado, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, and Florida, among others. This is a national problem.

Helping individual criminals evade federal law enforcement is not the only harm imposed by California’s reckless “sanctuary” legislation. Our national counterterrorism efforts could also be undermined by the law’s reporting and disclosure requirements, as well as other restrictions and limitations, between federal agencies and their state and local counterparts.

Since September 11, 2001, our government has strengthened ties among federal, state, and local authorities. Handcuffing our own law-enforcement agencies is a tremendous step backwards. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, I am privileged to see firsthand the benefits of partnerships from parties who work together.

Local law enforcement has been instrumental time and again in helping thwart terror attacks. But under this new legal framework, federal officials may be denied essential input.

For the safety and security of our neighborhoods and communities, law enforcement must be a collaborative effort. I know from my time as a federal prosecutor that effective cooperation is driven by strong and enduring partnerships at all levels. Local law enforcement has been instrumental time and again in helping thwart terror attacks. However, under this new legal framework, federal officials may be denied essential input and assistance from local and state authorities.

The communities that these state and local departments serve will lose their voice and ability to participate in, and help shape the direction of, federal immigration-enforcement operations and investigations. In a time when threats to our homeland are growing by the day and terrorist propaganda is increasing its reach, we cannot afford to deliberately jeopardize the success of these operations.

This new law may only complicate the already difficult job that we ask our men and women in law enforcement to perform. Upon its passage, Bill Brown, the president of the California State Sheriff Association, stated, “The California Legislature chose political symbolism over public safety in approving SB 54.” The effects could compromise partnerships that are vital to national and local security. This bill diminishes these partnerships and jeopardizes our safety.

California is building the wrong wall.


    Sanctuary Cities and Federalism

    Don’t Get Caught Up in the Border Wall

    No ‘Comprehensive’ Immigration Reform

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