California’s top law enforcement official has warned the sanctuary state’s employers that they face prosecution if they voluntarily assist the Trump administration’s threatened crackdown against undocumented immigrants.
Addressing the prospect of widespread Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids targeting the San Francisco Bay Area, Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) told reporters on Thursday that businesses that violate the state’s sanctuary law face legal repercussions, including fines up to $10,000.
“It’s important, given these rumors that are out there, to let people know — more specifically today, employers — that if they voluntarily start giving up information about their employees or access to their employees in ways that contradict our new California laws, they subject themselves to actions by my office,” Becerra said.
“Regardless of what the rumors are, the law is the law, the Constitution is the Constitution, and people have rights,” Becerra added. “No one — but more specifically, employers — [can] voluntarily give up… employees’ rights to privacy. If you do so, you are subjecting yourselves to fines — up to $10,000 for violations.”
Earlier this week the San Francisco Chronicle reported immigration officials have begun preparing for a major sweep in San Francisco and other Northern California cities that would seek to arrest more than 1,500 undocumented immigrants, who are protected under state and local sanctuary ordinances.
“California better hold on tight,” acting ICE Director Thomas Homan told Fox News. “If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
Last October, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed historic legislation making California the nation’s first sanctuary state. Under the new law, state and local officials are largely prohibited from cooperating with federal authorities seeking to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.
In addition to the new sanctuary state law, under California’s newly-enacted Immigrant Worker Protection Act, employers must ask immigration agents for warrants before allowing them into their businesses. They must also notify workers prior to federal audits of employee records and are prohibited from voluntarily sharing worker information without a subpoena.
The laws infuriated immigration hardliners in the Trump administration. Homan said the administration would not allow California to become “a sanctuary state for illegal aliens” and that the government would have no choice but to “conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community.”
In addition to raids, Homan and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Director Kirstjen Nielsen said the Department of Justice is weighing the possibility of arresting and prosecuting mayors and other officials in sanctuary cities, who Nielsen accused of “putting my [ICE] officers at risk.”
“We’ve got to start charging some of these politicians with crimes,” Homan told Fox News.
Sanctuary state and city officials remained defiant in the face of the administration’s threats.
“I say bring it,” acting San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) said at a Thursday news conference. “We have a responsibility to people… if protecting the citizens of San Francisco means, sadly, that I have to be hauled off to jail, then so be it.”
“Sanctuary cities are stronger and more vibrant places to live when we protect and support one another,” Breed added. “It’s why San Francisco continues to fight for all of its residents. We will never abandon our values because of threats. We will remain a sanctuary city today, tomorrow and always.”
Breed urged anyone who sees ICE officers or enforcement activity in their neighborhood to call the San Francisco Immigrant Legal & Education Network at (415)-200-1548.
San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott reassured undocumented residents that SFPD officers would not be assisting ICE.
“Everyone has access to government,” the chief said at the Thursday news conference. “Everyone has access to be able to report crimes if they are victims of a crime. Everyone has access to health care. These are why the values of our city are so important and we want the public to understand and know that when they call the police department, immigration is not the issue. When they call the police department and are looking for help we are there to help them and we don’t have any interest in asking questions or doing immigration enforcement.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) was among other California leaders who said they were also willing to go to jail to protect undocumented residents.
“The level of fear and anxiety in this community is at unconscionable levels,” Schaaf said on Wednesday, accusing President Donald Trump, who she called “the bully-in-chief,” of “continuing to try to intimidate our most vulnerable residents.”
“We are exercising our legal right to be a sanctuary city,” Schaaf explained. “The fact that the federal government is suggesting that it is actively retaliating against jurisdictions that are exercising their right to have sanctuary policies — that is what is illegal.”
California is home to more undocumented immigrants than any other state, and many progressive state and local officials have stepped up to voice their intention to do everything possible to protect its immigrant population.
“We’re very clear that our values are to protect all of our residents regardless of where we come from,” said Schaaf. “We want to protect families, not tear them apart.”