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California Legislature

Kevin de León says Trump law enforcement policy based on 'principles of white supremacy'

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) addresses the Senate in Sacramento last year. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) addresses the Senate in Sacramento last year. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California officials reacted with defiance Friday to a threat by federal officials to withhold some $20 million in criminal justice grants from the state and its counties as part of the dispute over so-called sanctuary city policies.

“It has become abundantly clear that Atty. Gen. [Jeff] Sessions and the Trump administration are basing their law enforcement policies on principles of white supremacy — not American values,” Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said in a statement. “Their constant and systematic targeting of diverse cities and states goes beyond constitutional norms and will be challenged at every level.”

De León’s statement on “white supremacy” drew an immediate rebuke from Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City.

“That’s a ridiculous statement,” Gallagher said.

“Nobody here is talking about the state becoming an immigration agency or doing ICE’s job for them. It’s about whether you comply with federal law,” Gallagher added.

The U.S. Department of Justice warned in a letter Friday that the grant funds could be jeopardized unless the state can verify in writing that the state and its counties and cities are not restricting the sharing of information with federal immigration authorities regarding the citizenship status of people in prison and jail cells.

The state was given until June 30 to comply with the grant requirement, according to the letter Friday from Alan R. Hanson, acting assistant attorney general for the federal Office of Justice Programs.

“Failure to comply with this condition could result in the withholding of grant funds, suspension or termination of the grant, ineligibility for future [OJP] grants or subgrants, or other action, as appropriate,” Hanson wrote.

De León on Friday released a letter to Sessions written by a private attorney hired by the Legislature who said the state and its cities are in compliance with the law.

“It is our understanding that these laws do not violate federal law and would not be subject to an enforcement action by the federal government,” wrote attorney Daniel Shallman, whose firm, Covington & Burling, has been hired to assist the state in communicating with the Trump administration. The legal strategy is being guided by former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr.

Shallman asked that the federal officials confirm that it will not take action against the state.

“If the Trump administration resorts to attempting to enforce its Order against California, the Legislature will use all available means to defend the rights, values and safety of Californians,” Shallman wrote April 6.

California received nearly $20 million in grants from the federal agency in the 2016 fiscal year, $18.2 million of which was distributed to criminal justice programs in 32 counties.

The money is distributed to counties through the California Board of State and Community Corrections, which received the warning letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.

The largest county grant was $3.59 million provided to Los Angeles County for a program that coordinates enforcement, prosecution and treatment for people and gangs “that spread social malaise through illicit drug abuse and narcotics-related crime and gang culture,” according to a board report.

L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has opposed De León's Senate Bill 54, “sanctuary state” legislation that would limit cooperation with immigration officials. San Francisco County officials have said they will limit their cooperation.

San Francisco County received a $3-million federal grant for a program aimed at reducing recidivism for young people to block “the school-to-prison pipeline,” the state report said.

Another $1 million went to San Bernardino County to cover costs involving the 2015 terrorist shooting that killed 14 people, and $396,310 went to a state prison program to reduce rapes of inmates.

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