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Department of Justice sues California over 'sanctuary' status

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California Gov. Jerry Brown is one of the targets of a Justice Department lawsuit aimed at abolishing three state laws the DOJ says obstruct the enforcement of federal immigration law. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

The Department of Justice is taking action against the state of California — including Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra — for three laws they say obstruct the enforcement of federal immigration law.

The Justice Department's lawsuit — filed in federal court in Sacramento Tuesday night — is asking for Assembly Bill 450, Senate Bill 54, and Assembly Bill 103 to be nullified statewide.

Justice Department officials told reporters Tuesday ahead of the filing that the three laws — which were all passed within the past year — are pre-empted by federal law and therefore violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“California has chosen to purposefully contradict the will and responsibility of Congress,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement, applauding the Justice Department’s lawsuit.

According to the Justice Department, the agency is still reviewing other laws California has enacted to see if they violate federal immigration law.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is expected to elaborate on the lawsuit Wednesday when speaking to the California Peace Officers Association in San Diego, and will call the California laws “unjust, unfair and unconstitutional,” according to his prepared remarks.

Assembly Bill 450 prevents private employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration officials, for example when worksite visits are conduced. Assembly Bill 103 puts federal immigration detention in state officials’ hands, and Senate Bill 54 prohibits state and local law enforcement from voluntarily telling federal immigration authorities when they will release an illegal immigrant from their custody.

In a June 2017 letter, former Attorney General Eric Holder wrote a letter to Sessions about SB 54, saying it “fully complies with the Constitution and federal law.”

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is modeled after a suit filed in 2010 by the Obama administration against an Arizona state law that actually required state and local law enforcement to crack down on anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

The lawsuit eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where it struck down parts of the laws as unconstitutional because they countered Congress’ ability to create federal immigration policy.

Both Brown, and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., denounced the lawsuit.

"At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!" Brown wrote on Twitter.

“Trump and Sessions think they can bully California — but it won't work,” Harris tweeted.

The lawsuit represents an escalation of the Trump administration’s push to crack down on illegal immigration.

Justice Department officials declined to say Tuesday if they had discussed the lawsuit in advance with the White House.