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Lawsuit against California echoes Arizona immigration fight

Published: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 10:52 AM
Updated: Thursday, March 08, 2018 @ 10:51 AM

            U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the California Peace Officers' Association 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day, 7, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. The Trump administration on Tuesday sued to block California laws that extend protections to people living in the U.S. illegally. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions addresses the California Peace Officers' Association 26th Annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day, 7, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. The Trump administration on Tuesday sued to block California laws that extend protections to people living in the U.S. illegally. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

The Trump administration's lawsuit against California over state laws aimed at protecting immigrants makes the same argument the Obama administration made when it went after an Arizona law that sought to crack down on people in the country illegally: The power to regulate immigration lies primarily with the U.S. government.

But legal experts say the two states' laws are fundamentally different, so the claim that states can't control immigration may not carry as much weight in the lawsuit announced by U.S Attorney Jeff Sessions.

Sessions is challenging three California laws, including one that requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held and another that bars law enforcement from providing release dates for people in jail and their personal information.

"The lawsuit against California is not going to be decided on the general, broader claim that immigration is exclusively the purview of the federal government," said Pratheepan Gulasekaram, a professor at Santa Clara University School of Law who studies state immigration regulations.

Federal officials say they need the kind of information California has blocked to take custody of people in the country illegally who are dangerous and need to be removed. The Trump administration often points to the case of Kate Steinle — a San Francisco woman who was shot and killed in 2015 by a Mexican man who had been deported five times — as an example of the need for tougher immigration laws.

"The provisions of state law at issue have the purpose and effect of making it more difficult for federal immigration officers to carry out their responsibilities in California," the U.S. Department of Justice's lawsuit against California claims.

California Democrats passed the laws in response to Trump's promises to sharply ramp up deportations of people living in the U.S. illegally.

The administration has tried to block funding from so-called sanctuary cities and states and has clashed particularly hard with California, which has resisted President Donald Trump on issues including marijuana policy and climate change and defiantly refuses to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants.

Sessions ramped up the fight with the announcement of his lawsuit Wednesday in a speech just blocks from the California state Capitol.

State officials say their sanctuary policies increase public safety by promoting trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement and they vowed to vociferously defend them in court. Holly Cooper, co-director of the immigration law clinic at the University of California, Davis, said the state would have a strong argument that federal officials are violating the U.S. Constitution by coercing it into using its resources for immigration enforcement.

The U.S. Constitution gives states the right to determine how to enforce public safety and the federal government can't overrule those decisions, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a news conference on Wednesday accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown.

"We're not trying to enact immigration laws. We're enacting public safety laws," he said. "The Trump administration doesn't like that, but we're not trying to get into their business. They're trying to get into our business."

Brown said California had "drawn the proper line between what the state has competency to do and what is the overriding federal supremacy."

The 2010 Arizona law that prompted a lawsuit by the Obama administration was different because it did enact immigration laws, Becerra said.

That law required police, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally, made it a crime to harbor immigrants here illegally, and banned them from seeking work in public places. It also required immigrants to carry registration.

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law in 2012. Justice Anthony Kennedy said Arizona may have "understandable frustrations" with immigrants who are in the country illegally, but it can't pursue policies that "undermine federal law."

The Obama administration argued that the law would divert resources away from its priority to go after dangerous immigrants, disrupt the U.S. relationship with Mexico and ignore federal protections afforded to immigrants.

Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama, said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday that unlike Arizona, California is not regulating immigration and leaving "federal immigration enforcement to federal authorities."

"So you're really comparing apples and oranges here," he said.

Legal experts agreed.

Gulasekaram said Arizona created a "parallel immigration enforcement system" with its own laws, while California is setting standards for cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Kari Hong, who teaches immigration law at Boston College Law School, said two of the California laws at issue say the state will comply with federal immigration officials, but only when they follow the law and obtain a warrant to compel the state to act.

"That's different from Arizona saying, 'We're going to take over and do our own thing,'" she said.


Associated Press writer Jonathan J. Cooper in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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21 states targeted by Russia in 2016 election still a mystery

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 8:01 AM

Reviewing the reaction of the Obama Administration to signs that Russia was trying to interfere in the 2016 election campaign, Senators on Wednesday expressed frustration at the refusal of the Obama and Trump Administrations to publicly reveal the names of at least 21 states targeted by Russian cyber attackers in 2016, arguing there is no reason to keep that information from the American people.

“America has to know what’s wrong,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “And if there are states that have been attacked, America should know that.”

In a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said states which were victimized prefer to remain anonymous, giving no hint that the identities of those states would be revealed any time soon.

“The 21 states themselves have been notified,” said Nielsen.

“But people have to know,” Feinstein countered.

Feinstein also pressed former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who defended efforts by the Obama Administration to both warn states – and warn the public about the Russian election threat.

“Senator, the American people were told,” Johnson said.

“Not sufficiently in any way, shape, or form,” Feinstein replied.

Johnson acknowledged that an early October 2016 warning about Russian actions – issued both by DHS and the broader U.S. Intelligence Community – did not get the press traction that he thought it deserved, mainly due to other breaking news about the campaign for President on that day.

“It was below the fold news, the next day, because of the release of the Access Hollywood video the same day,” Johnson said, referring to the tape of President Donald Trump in which he bragged about how he treated women, a revelation that roiled the 2016 campaign for the next several days.

At the hearing, Johnson did not mention what else was released on the same day – as just minutes after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, Wikileaks made the first release of hacked emails from John Podesta, a top aide to Hillary Clinton – all of that combining to overwhelm the U.S. government warning about Russian actions.

In hindsight, members of both parties said it was very obvious that – at the time – Russia was actively trying to cause trouble in the 2016 elections.

“Russian government actors scanned an estimated 21 states, and attempted to gain access to a handful of those,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“In at least one case, they were successful in penetrating a voter registration database,” Burr added.

Burr said his panel’s investigation showed that DHS and the FBI in 2016 did alert states of the Russian threat, but in a “limited way,” which resulted in most states not treating the information as an imminent threat.

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Winter storm threat shuts down federal government, cancels White House events

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 4:04 AM

While the calendar may say it is spring, another winter storm threatened the East Coast on Wednesday, prompting the federal government to close down offices in the Washington, D.C. area, and canceling public events for President Donald Trump at the White House.

While there was little snow on the ground as the sun came up on Wednesday, forecasters were warning of big snow totals from the nation’s capital, up the I-95 corridor through Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But as the morning commute continued, there was little evidence in some spots of that storm.

“Total accumulation so far 1” of Salt,” tweeted Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), as he documented empty streets on his commute to the U.S. Capitol, as lawmakers from the heartland subtly mocked the snow scare.

The biggest snowfall totals seemed to be to north of the Washington area, up near the Mason-Dixon line along the Maryland and Pennsylvania border, where as much as two feet of snow could fall.

But federal officials did not take any chances, as they closed government offices on Wednesday.

Despite the weather threat, Congress was in session today, though some committees had scrapped hearings set for Wednesday morning, worried about the snow.

Both the House and Senate were still going to be in session, as lawmakers were trying to finish a giant funding bill, facing a Friday night shutdown deadline.

At the White House, it was a snow day as well – even without any snow on the ground in the morning – as the President erred on the side of caution, and canceled two events, including a Cabinet meeting.

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Portman: Firing Mueller would be ‘big mistake’

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 7:33 PM

            Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today that it “would be a big mistake” for President Donald Trump to fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian officials trying to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign had any ties to those officials.

“I’ve said all along it would be a mistake to do so,” Portman told reporters on a conference call. “I think you have to let Mueller do his work. The American people deserve an answer.”

RELATED: Portman calls on pension panel to shed partisanship

Portman’s comments follow those of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was quoted Tuesday as saying firing Mueller would “probably” be an impeachable offense. Graham had earlier said a Mueller firing would be “the beginning of the end” of the Trump presidency.

Portman said the intelligence community “has determined there was meddling in our election and we need to know more about it.”

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In Russia probe, Senate panel urges stronger election security

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 9:22 AM

Issuing the first report in the review of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that a range of stepped up election security measures must be taken by local, state, and federal officials to address a series of gaps, which lawmakers in both parties say Moscow was obviously trying to exploit.

“It is clear the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election system,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Intelligence panel, which has been working for over a year to uncoil what cyber attacks Moscow was engaging in during the 2016 campaign for President.

“Russia attempted to penetrate 21 states; we know they were successful in penetrating at least one voter database,” Burr added at a bipartisan news conference on Capitol Hill.

The panel issued a two page summary of what Senators say should be changed, ranging from giving grants to states to help secure their election systems, and pushing states to replaced outdated voting machines, and ensure that such vote counting equipment is not connected to the internet .

While Burr again stressed that there was “no evidence that any vote was changed,” he made clear that the bottom line of the investigation shows Russia was a bad actor in 2016.

“Russia was trying to undermine the confidence in our election system,” Burr added.

“The Russians were relentless in trying to meddle in the 2016 elections,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), as she said Senators in both parties agree that Moscow is trying to do the same thing in 2018 in the United States, and in other Western democracies as well.

“We may never know the full extent of the Russian malicious attacks,” Collins added.

One idea suggested by committee members is for states to go back to paper ballots in the future, to insure that overseas actors can’t hack their way into the voting process.

The panel will hold a hearing on Wednesday to go over these findings and recommendations related to election security, as Burr and other Senators stressed that their overall review of Russia’s 2016 election meddling continues.

The news conference demonstrated the difference between the investigations into Russian interference in the House and Senate, as Senators of both parties joined together, while over in the House, the two sides have been issuing dueling memos and reports.

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