Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

A day after the Trump administration sued California over its new “sanctuary” laws, state officials pushed back hard, with Gov. Jerry Brown calling the move tantamount to “war.”

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the lawsuit, which he filed late Tuesday, at a police event near the Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday. He said California leaders were scoring political points on the backs of law enforcement with immigration policies that hinder federal agents’ ability to enforce U.S. law.

“We’re simply asking the state and other sanctuary jurisdictions to stop actively obstructing federal law enforcement,” Sessions said as hundreds of protesters shouted outside. “Stop treating immigration agents differently from everybody else for the purpose of eviscerating border and immigration laws, and advancing an open-borders philosophy shared by only a few, the most radical extremists.”

Sessions accused local and state elected officials, including Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, of promoting an extreme agenda to frustrate federal agents. Becerra, a Brown appointee, is running for election this year, as is Schaaf.

At a joint press conference with Becerra after Sessions’ announcement, Brown said he does not believe in “open borders.” The laws being challenged in the suit were carefully crafted, he said, to balance the state’s right to manage public safety with federal authority to oversee immigration. He termed Sessions’ appearance a stunt.

“This is completely unprecedented, for the chief of law enforcement in the United States to come out here and engage in a political stunt, (and) make wild accusations, many of which are based on outright lies,” Brown said—unusually strong language for a governor who has largely been cautious in his criticism of the Trump administration.

“This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy. It’s not wise; it’s not right; and it will not stand,” Brown said.

Sessions’ visit is the latest political salvo between the Trump administration and California, whose Legislature has favored immigrant-friendly policies. Candidates for statewide office have been jockeying to position themselves as the best representative of the “resistance state.” Becerra has sued the administration more than two dozen times on a range of issues, including the president’s travel ban and ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allowed those brought to the country illegally as minors to remain here on a temporary basis.

In his 20-minute speech, Sessions said Schaaf, who recently tipped off the public about an imminent immigration raid, “has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).” That has made the job of immigration agents more dangerous, he said—as outside protesters outside chanted, “Immigrants stay; Sessions go!”

“How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement officers to promote a radical open-border agenda,” said Sessions, who noted that the United States annually admits 1.1 million immigrants lawfully as permanent residents.

Within hours, Schaaf posted on Twitter that Oakland’s violent-crime rates have declined in the past five years, answering Sessions’ claim that crime generally is on the rise.

The U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit asks a federal court to strike down three state laws that, among other restrictions, require employers to keep information about their employees private without a court order; mandate inspections of immigration detention facilities; and bar local law enforcers from questioning people about their immigration status during routine interactions. The most contentious law does allow state officials to cooperate with federal agents when deportation is required for those who have committed any of 800 serious crimes.

Washington, D.C., will have to show that the state’s new laws infringe on its ability to enforce immigration rules, which may be hard to do, said Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis.

“Ultimately, I think the state is likely to win most, if not all, of the lawsuit,” Johnson said.

Sessions said the sanctuary laws were designed to frustrate federal authorities. “Just imagine if a state passed a law forbidding employers from cooperating with OSHA in ensuring workplace safety, or the Environmental Protection Agency for looking out for polluters. Would you pass a law to do that?”

Sessions singled out Becerra, California’s top prosecutor, for threatening to fine business owners up to $10,000 if they cooperate with ICE agents. Becerra, who delivered a private address to the police group Wednesday, said at the press conference that “California has exercised its rights to define the circumstance where state and local law enforcement may participate in immigration enforcement.

“California is in the business of public safety. We’re not in the business of deportations,” he added, repeating statements he made Tuesday evening in the wake of the federal government’s filing. “I look forward to making these arguments in court.”

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who is running for governor, had praised Schaaf for her warning, a move Sessions said was “an embarrassment to the proud state of California.”

In a Facebook post, Newsom responded: “Jeff Sessions called me an ‘embarrassment’ today. Coming from him, I take that as a compliment. But words don't mean much when you and your family's livelihoods are on the line.”

Some other candidates for statewide office were quick to offer their views on the lawsuit. State Senate leader Kevin De León, who is challenging Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat and wrote one of the laws at issue, told reporters the suit is retribution against a state that resoundingly rejected Trump on Election Day.

“From Day 1, California has been in the crosshairs of this president,” he said. “We are on solid constitutional legal ground, so we welcome this lawsuit.”

Labor unions and immigration-rights organizations, meanwhile, decried Sessions’ announcement. The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights said Washington was sowing “deception and fear mongering” to push an anti-immigrant agenda.

CALmatters reporters Laurel Rosenhall and Elizabeth Aguilera contributed to this report. is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Politics

Growing tension between California and the federal government over immigration has business owners in the crosshairs—worried about the potential effect on their enterprises, and unsure which laws they should follow.

Those in immigrant-dependent industries, such as hospitality and agriculture, say conflicting messages from the state, with its new laws to protect undocumented residents, and the federal government, which is cracking down on people in the U.S. illegally, put them in an especially tough spot.

“It’s a bit scary to be caught in the middle of a stand-off between the feds and local law enforcement,” said Sharokina Shams, spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association.

On Jan. 2, the interim director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement said California should “hold on tight,” because he planned to send in a flood of agents and conduct more actions to counter the state’s new “sanctuary” law. That law, which took effect Jan. 1, limits local and state law enforcement agencies’ cooperation with federal authorities.

ICE also recently raided nearly 100 7-Eleven franchises across the country and arrested 21 people. If such raids happened in California, the store owners would be required under a separate law to request warrants and subpoenas.

That law, called the Immigrant Worker Protection Act, also went into effect Jan. 1. It requires that employers admit immigration officials to a worksite only if the agents have a warrant; keep workers’ confidential information private in the absence of a subpoena; and notify their workers before a federal audit of employee records takes place.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced on Jan. 18 that his office would go after employers who share information about workers in contradiction of the new law. Employers could face prosecution, including fines of up to $10,000.

“We want to protect people’s rights to privacy and protect their ability to go about their business, going to work and feeding their kids,” said Becerra, an appointee (who replaced Kamala Harris when she was elected to the U.S. Senate) running for election to the office this year.

He said his announcement was prompted by rumors in Northern California that immigration agents intend to conduct workplace raids.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement says employers in California are expected to comply with federal regulations, as they have in the past, when asked to open their records for review.

The Immigrant Worker Protection Act “reflects yet another effort by the State of California to interfere with federal immigration enforcement authorities,” said Lori Haley, spokeswoman for ICE, via email. “Federal law established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire.”

Such audits protect jobs for citizens and others who are in the country legally and help battle worker exploitation, child labor and other illegal practices, Haley said.

California business owners shouldn’t be put at odds with the federal government, said GOP Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents Huntington Beach.

“Business owners should always feel safe to cooperate with federal authorities without fear of persecution by California’s rogue attorney general,” said Allen, who is running for governor. “Business owners should never be used as pawns in the California Democrats’ ongoing war with the White House.”

He called the new law unconstitutional and likened Becerra’s threat to the Mafia silencing witnesses. The Constitution has “laid out clearly that immigration is federal, not state jurisdiction,” Allen said. “Federal law trumps state law, and Xavier Becerra knows this.”

The California Farm Bureau Federation, which represents farmers, has been reaching out to its 27,000 members to educate them about the new employer law. But officials there say they may not be able to reach everyone and worry that some may get caught unaware.

“It was a little disconcerting that the attorney general felt compelled to make a public statement to the effect that ‘we are going to fine anybody that we think might have violated the law at the max penalty’ when people make mistakes,” said Bryan Little, director of employment policy for the federation. “It would have been more helpful for the attorney general to be more informative.”

Typically, Little said, when immigration authorities decide to do an employment inspection, an employer receives a letter stating that the agency wants to audit its records, how those records should be provided and whether agents plan to show up at the worksite. That’s different from an enforcement action, when agents show up without warning to look for someone specific or to question all employees about their legal status—the kind of operation that does not happen very often.

Regardless, said Little, California law adds a layer of complications.

“Our business owners, operators and employers are caught in the middle” between ICE’s right to enforce federal law and the state’s limited-cooperation directive, he said. “It’s unfortunate.”

Restaurateur Patricia Perez, co-owner of Pho Show restaurants in Culver City and Redondo Beach, feels the pressure.

“Being in the hospitality industry, the whole social and political climate is worrisome,” she said. “Even before this, there is a lot to comply with. I don’t know what we would do.”

“The small business owner is the loser in this,” said Perez, who is also on the board of the Los Angeles Chapter of the California Restaurant Association.

Keeping up with new laws and regulations is hard enough, said Perez. Anytime a government agency shows up at a business for audits or information, employers and workers are nervous or even intimidated, and the new employment law doesn’t help, she said.

“It’s not an issue of transparency. Once a government agency asks for anything, it’s a feeling of not having a choice,” she said. “Business owners don’t always know their rights or what to do except to comply.”

California could be contradicting itself with the new employer law, according to Jonathan Turley, professor of public-interest law at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. The state weighed in on a 2012 case involving an Arizona law that required police to cooperate with immigration agents, Turley noted in a review of California’s new employer law. Kamala Harris, who was then California’s attorney general, signed a brief arguing that Arizona’s law improperly interfered with federal jurisdiction. Today, California is putting business owners in the direct path of the federal government, Turley argues, and its law could be challenged based on its own position that states should not impede federal authority. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

The California Department of Public Health has issued proposed rules for the cannabis industry in anticipation of the Proposition 64 provisions that will take effect next year.

Voters legalized the adult use of marijuana via Prop 64 last year.

The proposed rules require applicants who wish to grow, transport or sell marijuana for medical use to get a license from the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and pass a background check. People who transport marijuana between farms and dispensaries would be prohibited from owning said marijuana, and must be at least 21.

The rules establish a track-and-trace system that would monitor cannabis products through the supply chain. Individual plants would be tracked from seeds and buds to processing facilities. Dispensaries would no longer be able to package products in-house or be allowed to give out free samples. Delivery service would be an option if abiding by strict rules—governing everything from volume to the types of vehicles used.

One proposed rule that will surely meet with opposition from the industry is a provision that edibles have no more than 10 milligrams of THC per serving, and no more than 100 milligrams of THC in the total package. There currently is no such limit, and some companies are specializing in ultra-potent edibles; consumers are eating them up. Many would argue that this per-serving limit is impractically small, especially for those with medical needs for higher doses. These complaints, however, will most likely lead to no changes in the rules. Colorado and Washington both limit edibles to 10 mg per serving and 100 mg per package.

Other proposed rules include:

• Packaging must not appeal to children.

• Cannabis may not be infused into alcohol, nicotine or caffeine products.

• Dispensary hours of operation will be limited to the hours between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

• 42 percent of electricity for indoor commercial cultivation must come from renewable sources.

• Concentrated products like extracts and tinctures could contain up to 1,000 milligrams per package.

• All cannabis business would need to be at least 600 feet away from schools.

• All products would be required to leave sales points in child-resistant containers.

• Cannabis farms would be limited to 4 acres.

• Licenses for veterans and cannabis businesses in good standing as of Jan. 1, 2016, would receive priority consideration.

Tuesday, June 13, is the last day for the public to submit written comments. More information can be found at

California AG Ready to Fight for Cannabis in Jeff Sessions’ Drug War

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a memo to federal prosecutors calling on them to push for prosecution of the most-serious charges possible in drug cases—especially those with mandatory minimum sentences.

Vanita Gupta, the former head of the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told Yahoo! News that the memo was a “resounding step backwards into the 1980s of failed policies in our criminal justice system that resulted in us having the highest incarceration rate of industrialized nations in the world. It’s a real throwback in a lot of ways, and very troubling.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was unrestrained in his contempt for Sessions’ new directive. “The policy announced today is not tough on crime. It is dumb on crime. It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety,” Holder said in a statement.

Sessions has repeatedly claimed that drug use—including cannabis—is behind a violent crime epidemic sweeping the nation. (For the record, crime rates nationwide remain dramatically lower than they were in the ’80s and ’90s.)

Congress has already limited Sessions’ ability to extend his renewed drug war to legal weed, and has denied federal funding of any efforts to prosecute cannabis businesses that are legal according to state laws, thanks to a rider to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017. Section 537 states: “None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used” with respect to states with legal medical weed “to prevent any of them from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

However, President Trump has the industry and its proponents worried a bit by his signing statement attached to the bill. Among the points of disagreement highlighted by the president was the provision that prohibits the feds from interfering with state-legal medical-marijuana programs. While signing statements are not policy, some worry it could signal future changes in policy where federal enforcement is concerned. This budget bill will be in effect through Sept. 30.

In an interview with Politico California, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra indicated that California is unwilling to yield on its marijuana laws, and would not back down from a battle in the face of a federal crackdown.

“I would love to see Jeff Sessions come to California and tell us we’re not going to move forward on cannabis. Something tells me that it’s not gonna happen,” Becerra said. “I’ll probably be the 1 millionth person in line to fight Jeff Sessions on that.”

He continued: “Cannabis is last century’s argument. We’re beyond that.”

Published in Cannabis in the CV