The Border Patrol says it’s been forced to release a drunken driver back onto the streets, and nearly missed out on nabbing a fake UPS delivery van carrying 77 illegal immigrants — all because California’s new sanctuary city laws have soured cooperation between police and federal authorities.
In the drunken driving case, a local police department said it couldn’t respond to agents who’d pulled over the drunken driver, since it began as an immigration stop. They said it would violate the state’s sanctuary law limiting their ability to work with border or interior agents, Rodney S. Scott, chief patrol agent of the Border Patrol’s San Diego Sector, told a federal court.
In the other case the 77 illegal immigrants were likely only nabbed because an agent happened to stop to help a highway patrol officer who’d pulled over the fake truck, Agent Scott said. He said the highway patrol was salty that the Border Patrol had even gotten involved.
Those were some of the details to emerge Wednesday as all sides began to grapple with the Trump administration’s new lawsuit challenging three of California’s sanctuary city laws.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions officially announced the move in a speech to California law enforcement in Sacramento, saying the state’s policies were akin to slave-holding states attempting to thwart federal law before the Civil War.
“There is no nullification. There is no secession,” he said. “Federal law is ‘the supreme law of the land.’ I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg, to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.”
Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the state laws last year, fired back, questioning why a “fella from Alabama” would be talking about secession and saying Mr. Sessions was trying to ingratiate himself with President Trump. He said Mr. Sessions should apologize for even filing the lawsuit.
“This is basically going to war against the state of California,” Mr. Brown said, adding for good measure that he expects more of Mr. Trump’s “liars” to be snared by special counsel Robert F. Mueller.
“This lawsuit is going to last a lot longer than the Trump administration,” he said, at one point referring to Mr. Trump as “Donald” and Mr. Sessions as “Jeff.”
Mr. Sessions is challenging three state laws, SB54, AB103 and AB450. Together, they prohibit police from asking about immigration status, prevent them from turning over migrants to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or the Border Patrol, order businesses to refuse to cooperate with ICE, and task California investigators with probing the detention of every illegal immigrant held in the state.
The Justice Department says those state laws thwart national immigration policies, violating the Constitution and federal law.
California counters that the federal government can continue to enforce laws, but can’t commandeer help from local police.
Agent Scott, in his sworn declaration filed in the case, says the laws go well beyond that to actively obstruct public safety and law enforcement.
In the drunken-driving case, he said his agents conducted a stop of a vehicle under their immigration powers. They found no immigration problems, but it was “obvious” the driver was intoxicated. The agents called the local Indio Police Department, but officers refused to respond “because the initial vehicle stop was immigration based.”
“Under those circumstances, Border Patrol had no choice but to release the intoxicated subject to the public,” Agent Scott said.
The Washington Times provided Indio police with the documents, but the department didn’t respond.
Agent Scott also detailed another incident in which El Cajon police failed to respond as his agents called for help during a 20-mile highway chase through their jurisdiction.
“This declination for assistance occurred even though it involved a vehicle that failed to yield, endangering federal law enforcement and the public while traveling on a California Interstate and highway within their jurisdiction,” he said.
El Cajon police didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In the third incident involving the fake UPS truck, Agent Scott said a California Highway Patrol officer had pulled the vehicle over for an invalid registration. It turned out the plates were cloned and the vehicle was engaged in immigrant smuggling.
A Border Patrol agent pulled up to assist — a common courtesy among law enforcement agents who see another officer conducting a solo stop — and was able to take control of the immigration case, arresting the illegal immigrants and the driver.
But Agent Scott said if his agent hadn’t been there, the highway patrol officer could have let the smuggler and all 77 illegal immigrants go. The highway patrol later complained anyway about the stop, Agent Scott said.
“Although the encounter was the result of an agent taking initiative and attempting to ensure the safety of a fellow law enforcement officer conducting a single officer vehicle stop, it was seen as a negative encounter due to the passage of SB 54,” Agent Scott said.
The highway patrol, provided with Agent Scott’s testimony, told The Times it would not comment on the incident because of the Sessions lawsuit.
Agent Scott said cooperation has soured in other ways. His agents are no longer releasing illegal immigrants they catch to state and local police to serve time for other previous crimes, because they no longer have confidence the people will be turned back over for deportation later.
He said a sex offender, two drug offenders and one drunken driver all avoided additional jail time because police wouldn’t assure agents they’d get the convicts back later for deportation.
The problems even affected illegal immigrants wanted in other states. Agent Scott said one migrant was wanted in Iowa, and his agents had intended to turn the person over to the San Diego Sheriff’s Department for extradition to Iowa.
But California allows extradition to be challenges, and since the Border Patrol couldn’t be sure of getting the man back from local authorities in that case, it ended up deporting him — denying Iowa the chance to jail him.
Mr. Brown, at a press conference Wednesday, said he was unaware of any of those instances, and denied public safety was being hindered by the state laws.
“That’s not true. We know the Trump administration is full of liars. They’ve pled guilty already to the special counsel,” he said.
He said the state’s laws don’t thwart federal agents, but ensure state and local officers and deputies aren’t compelled to help.
“Nothing stops the federal government from coming to a jail. The release records are public. There’s nothing that stops a sheriff who runs the jails to working with ICE. There’s nothing in the law that prevents ICE from working in our prisons, from working in our department of corrections,” he said.
“What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true, and I call upon him to apologize to the people of California,” Mr. Brown said.