California lawmakers make full-throated promise of legislative and legal action against Trump's immigration orders

California state leaders denounced President Trump’s executive immigration orders on Wednesday, saying the actions would pose a threat to public safety, waste taxpayer dollars and tear at the fabric of the country.

The directives, which seek to temporarily stop the U.S. refugee program and suspend some visas, curb funding for cities that provide protections for immigrants, and order the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, are expected to be met with forceful legislative and legal resistance in California.

The Democratic lawmakers, who on the first day of this legislative session clashed in rancorous debate over how to respond to Trump, said they planned to use their supermajorities in the Legislature to speed up a barrage of bills challenging the president’s key proposals.

At a news conference hours after Trump’s orders were released, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) called them “mean-spirited” and “spiteful,” saying the state was prepared to take the administration to court should other legislative efforts fail. 

“We can all agree we need comprehensive immigration reform,” he told reporters. “But the executive actions announced today are counterproductive. They are divisive and unnecessary. They won’t make us safer. They wont bring back jobs. They won’t solve our economic challenges. ” 

In his executive orders, Trump directed federal workers to start constructing a border wall and begin withholding federal funds from so-called sanctuary cities, which have policies in place to protect immigrants and limit the involvement of their local agencies in federal immigration actions. He is also considering dramatically limiting the flow of people who enter the U.S. from other countries, including a ban on Syrian refugees.

Democratic leaders in California say they have been anticipating the actions. Bills filed so far this session seek to provide legal aid to immigrants in the country illegally, refuse assistance to any proposed registry of Muslim immigrants and require any portion of a proposed wall along California’s southern border that exceeds a cost of $1 billion to first be approved by California voters

De León has also partnered with state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) to hire former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as outside counsel to advise the state’s legal strategy for dealing with the incoming administration. The contract starts in February, but De León said it could begin sooner.

“The less we use Holder, the better,” he said. “The more we use him, that means bad things are happening to the people of California.”

In a statement, Rendon said sanctuary cities “were established to make communities safer and free up law enforcement for real crimes.” He added that the state’s agricultural industry and other economic sectors depend on an immigrant workforce.

“If those businesses suffer, the national economy will suffer, too, and that’s all on Trump,” he said.

The two state leaders are expected to work closely with California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, whose state justice department pledged Wednesday to protect the privacy and property rights of all Californians.

“Executive orders do not change existing law,” Becerra said in a statement. “Executive orders cannot contradict existing law. And executive orders can be challenged for violating constitutional and legal standards in their enforcement.”

At Wednesday’s press conference, state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), who is chairman of the Latino Legislative Caucus, said a border wall has already been built and was not effective — or necessary at time when migration from Mexico is low. It is “medieval policy that no longer works today,” he said. 

State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the directives unconstitutional and urged Trump to listen to the thousands of protesters who took to the streets during the women’s marches over the weekend.

“We will do everything within our power and the power of the law to ensure that all Californians have their constitutional rights protected,” she said. 

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was once the mayor of sanctuary city San Francisco, said in a statement Wednesday that Trump’s immigration order “is not just inhumane and immoral — it is a declaration of national economic devastation.”

“It’s irresponsible and irrational to force cities to participate in deportation crackdowns by threatening to take away their public safety and homeland security dollars — since the inevitable result will be making our cities and our homeland far less safe and secure,” Newsom said.

But not all lawmakers were opposed to the directives. On Twitter, Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-Escondido) said, “The lives of our citizens are at risk until criminal aliens are out of the country.”

Back in De León’s office, state Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), chairwoman of the Public Safety Committee, said that the state and national economies rely on immigrants and that she wanted to remind the president that “people who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

“In the same way that the occupant of the White House has not released his tax returns, the first lady has not released her immigration records,” she said. “We don’t really know whether the first lady complied with all of the U.S. immigration rules, and so are we expecting selective enforcement? Will only certain people come under the threat of this executive order?”

'This isn't who we are': What California House members are saying about Trump's dramatic immigration orders »

jazmine.ulloa@latimes.com

Twitter: @jazmineulloa

 

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