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Federal appeals panel looks poised to reject government appeal on undocumented immigrants

A federal appeals court panel in San Francisco appeared inclined on Wednesday to turn down a U.S. government bid to challenge three California laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants.

The U.S. Department of Justice is asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn a decision in which a federal judge in Sacramento refused to block most parts of the three laws enacted in 2017. A key law, Senate Bill 54, entitled the California Values Act, bars local officials from informing federal officials about immigrants’ release dates from jail except in serious criminal cases.

Justice Department attorney Daniel Tenny argued to a three-judge 9th Circuit panel that the law interferes with federal immigration enforcement.

But Circuit Judge Paul Watford questioned:

“Your argument is that it’s an obstacle, but they’re not required to be helpful, are they?”

Circuit Judge Milan Smith similarly asked:

“Where’s the violation of federal law here in the failure to cooperate? Because it’s an obstacle, that doesn’t mean it’s illegal, right?”

The state contends that SB 54 merely prevents federal authorities from commandeering local officials to carry out their job. It claims all three laws are intended to preserve state resources and safeguard the health and welfare of California residents.

The panel took the case under submission and will issue a written ruling at a later date.

The Justice Department sued the state in federal court in Sacramento last year, calling the three laws “a deliberate effort by California to obstruct the United States’ enforcement of federal immigration law.”

Another of the laws, AB 103, directs the California attorney general to inspect the county jails and private detention facilities that contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to hold undocumented immigrants during civil immigration proceedings.

In the ruling being appealed, U.S. District Judge John Mendez refused to grant preliminary injunctions blocking SB 54 and AB 103. He granted a preliminary injunction prohibiting a section of a third law, AB 450, that fines private employers who voluntarily allow immigration agents to enter their workplace or review employee records without a court warrant.

Mendez left in place another part of AB 450 that requires employers to let workers know when their business has received a three-day notice of an immigration inspection of employee records.

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