Continuing its role as a leading counter-force to Trump administration policies, California filed a lawsuit Monday challenging as unconstitutional the president’s plan to rescind a program that protects young immigrants from deportation, with officials warning the state will be hardest hit by the change.
State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra said he decided to file a suit separate from legal actions by 15 other states, the University of California and civil rights activists because California and its economy will be hurt the most by the president's decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
“There is no state that will be more economically impacted by the Trump administration’s unconstitutional and illegal termination of DACA than California,” Becerra said at a Sacramento news conference, noting that California is home to a quarter of the 800,000 young people in the DACA program.
Participants were brought to the country illegally as children, and Becerra said they should not be punished by the decisions of others.
The suit filed in San Francisco federal court Monday marks at least the 25th legal action from Becerra this year against policies by the Trump administration, putting California among a handful of states, including New York and Washington, that are fighting Trump at every turn.
Gov. Jerry Brown supported the latest challenge.
“California stands with the millions of immigrants who make this state a vibrant and prosperous place,” Brown said in a statement. “We are investing millions of dollars in new legal aid to help law-abiding people stay with their families in the U.S.”
The latest lawsuit was criticized Monday by Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont group We the People Rising, which advocates for tougher enforcement of immigration laws.
“It’s misguided and premature and a misuse of tax dollars,” Hvidston said.
She noted that President Trump delayed repeal of the program for six months to give Congress a chance to address the issue, and that Trump acted only after several Republican-led states sued to end the DACA program.
Becerra’s lawsuit says canceling the program violates the due process guarantee of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by substantially altering the Department of Homeland Security’s assurances on handling the personal information provided by DACA participants.
The repeal "may lead to the untenable outcome that the [Trump] Administration will renege on the promise it made to Dreamers and their employers that information they gave to the government for their participation in the program will not be used to deport them or prosecute their employers,” said the lawsuit, which also includes Maine, Maryland and Massachusetts as plaintiffs.
“We don’t bait and switch in this country,” Becerra said. He was joined at the announcement by two DACA participants who were brought to the U.S. illegally when they were 4 years old.
Eva Jimenez, 21, said hearing the threat of DACA being repealed has been “terrifying.”
“I felt vulnerable,” Jimenez said, adding that she worries whether she will be able to graduate and use her studies in international relations at UC Davis.
The lawsuit also claims the federal government violated procedures requiring a period for public comment on major policy changes.
That argument worked before for Texas and other states that opposed the 2012 policy implemented by President Obama, said USC law professor Niels Frenzen, who specializes in immigration law.
“If the states win on this, they will succeed in delaying the termination of DACA,” Frenzen said.
The California lawsuit deviates slightly from an argument by 15 states including New York that sued last week, which alleged the repeal is “a culmination of President’s Trump’s oft-stated commitments … to punish and disparage people with Mexican roots.”
The California lawsuit alleges the administration “discriminated against this class of young immigrants,” or DACA participants, in violation of the equal protection guarantee of the 5th Amendment.
Becerra’s lawsuit won support from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), who said the state owes such action to the young immigrants, often called “Dreamers.”
“Trump’s decision to pull the rug out from beneath them is not only immoral, but I’m confident is illegal,” he said, thanking Becerra, who is seeking a full term in the office next year after being appointed to the post by Brown in December.
The lawsuit follows a long year of state government activism on the issue of illegal immigration. California lawmakers jumped into the national fray over illegal immigration at the beginning of the year with a package of bills filed by Democrats. The measures this legislative session would enhance workplace protections against Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, provide college grants, fee waivers or reimbursements to young immigrants in exchange for community service, and limit state and local police from collaborating with federal immigration agents to hold, question or identify people who are in the U.S. illegally.
Meanwhile, the state’s budget deal in June allocated $45 million to expand and refocus state-funded legal aid services for immigrants searching for pathways to citizenship, or who are battling removal orders from the country. An additional $20 million was added Sunday to a pending budget bill, money that would go to nonprofits that contract with the state to help people apply for or renew their DACA status.
Times staff writer Jazmine Ulloa contributed to this report.