Summary of Federal Court’s Decision on California's Pro-immigrant Laws

Last Updated

July 17, 2018

A federal court judge in California entered a ruling mostly in favor of the state in United States v. California, in which the Trump administration challenged the legality of the state’s pro-immigrant laws that were enacted in 2017: SB 54, AB 103, and AB 450.

This case began in March 2018 when the Department of Justice (“Administration”) filed suit in federal court against the state of California, asking the court to preliminarily enjoin – or temporarily block – the state from implementing its newly enacted pro-immigrant laws. The Administration argued that the laws violated the U.S. Constitution, particularly the Supremacy Clause therefore making them invalid. In defense, the state argued that its actions are within lawful exercise of its constitutional rights and do not conflict with or undermine federal law. On July 5, the court ruled in favor of the state, for the most part, and upheld two of the laws, but enjoined the third.

Below is a brief summary of critical issues the court addressed regarding each law.


California Values Act (Senate Bill 54)

The state enacted the California Values Act, or SB 54, to prohibit state officials from using local resources to interrogate, detain, or arrest anyone solely for the purpose of civil immigration enforcement. It bars the transfer of individuals from state custody to immigration officials without a judicial warrant, with some exceptions. It also restricts local law enforcement from sharing nonpublic information about an individual, such as their home and work address.

The Administration argued that the state law violates 8 U.S.C. §1373, a federal law that prohibits states from preventing local officials from sharing immigration status information with the federal government. It stated that by limiting the sharing of personal information, the state hinders federal officials’ ability to arrest an immigrant upon release from custody and have difficulty locating the person without an address, thus impeding its ability to enforce immigration laws locally. The court disagreed and upheld this law. It stated that while the law puts more burden on federal officials to identify immigrants for enforcement action than it would if local officials assisted, it in no way prevents the Administration from carrying out its enforcement duties locally. The court emphasized, “refusing to help is not the same as impeding.”


Assembly Bill 103

The state amended existing law to include provisions directing state officials to inspect all local immigration detention facilities to review standards of care and conditions under which individuals are kept and the due process afforded to them. The Administration asked the court to block this law from taking effect on grounds that California has no authority to inspect facilities holding federal detainees. The state opposed, stating that it enacted the law in response to “growing concerns of egregious conditions in facilities housing civil detainees.”

Again, the court disagreed with the Administration, holding that the law does not give California a role in deciding who should be detained or removed from the country; instead, it merely seeks transparency of the operations of the facilities and a report for future use by state officials. The court upheld this law.


Assembly Bill 450

The state amended its labor code to include provisions pertaining to immigration enforcement actions at worksites. Specifically, the law prohibits employers from voluntarily allowing immigration officials to access private areas on work premises, or review employees’ records, unless accompanied by a judicial warrant, and imposes civil penalties for violation. The law also requires businesses to give employees advance notice of upcoming ICE inspections and prohibits employers from re-verifying the employment status of current employees when federal law does not require it.

The court upheld provisions that require advance notice to employees of immigration officials’ inspection at the workplace stating that it punishes employers for failing to communicate with employees, not for its choice to work with the federal government. 

However, the court blocked the other parts of the law, emphasizing that a law, which penalizes employers for voluntarily consenting to federal enforcement’s entry into nonpublic areas of their place of business “impermissibly discriminates against those who choose to deal with the federal government.” Additionally, prohibiting employers from re-verifying the employment status of its employees “frustrates the system of accountability that Congress designed”, adding that the court’s analysis could change with more information about the verification process.


What the court’s ruling means for local communities

  • Separating local police from federal immigration enforcement promotes public safety. The court’s ruling will keep state officials from acting as immigration agents, allowing them to refocus on prioritizing crime prevention and ensuring residents’ basic needs are met, including offering quality education and emergency assistance resources.
  • Local police can work to strengthen positive relationships with the community. This law allows local law enforcement to conduct proactive outreach into the community to strengthen trusting relationships with immigrants, especially in light of their increased fear of deportation. Community policing efforts promote collaboration and trust between law enforcement and the community, where immigrants feel comfortable interacting with local officials, working with them to identify challenges within the community and determing solutions for improvement.
  • The laws help law enforcement agencies reduce the chances of being sued for potential constitutional violations. Several local jurisdictions, including the LA County Sheriff’s Department, have been held responsible for unlawfully detaining immigrants in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause while complying with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests. Courts have awarded thousands of dollars to victims in damages, which these jurisdictions must pay, often without promise of reimbursement from the federal government.
  • Inspection of local detention facilities would ensure that detained individuals are treated properly. Routine inspections of immigration detention facilities would ensure transparency into how individuals are treated in these facilities, which could help provide critical information needed to identify potentially harmful conditions that fall below human rights standards and hold federal officials accountable for such violations.
  • Provisions in these laws protect vulnerable members of our society. These laws reaffirm the state’s commitment to ensuring that all residents are treated fairly. Undertaking such initiatives to improve relations between local officials and the community such as defending individual rights and treating all residents with the dignity they deserve, regardless of citizenship status, promotes the common good and leads to a safer and more inclusive community.



United States v. California et. al, No. 2:18-cv-00490-JAM-KJN (E.D.Cal. 2018)