Inside the Sanctuary City Legal Battle

March 7, 2018

The Trump administration is cracking down on California over its sanctuary city laws. Attorney General Jeff Session visited Sacramento, and formally announced a lawsuit against the state over its failure to comply with federal immigration rules. Cheddar's Brad Smith speaks with San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón to get his reaction.

"All this is really a political stunt," says Gascón. "It has nothing to do with public safety."

Gascón says sanctuary laws are so important because America has a broken down immigration system. "To go after those people when they haven't committed any crime other than the unlawful stay in this country has a very disruptive impact overall," says Gascón. "From a social stance it is absolutely unconscionable."


George Gascon: Hi, Brad. Yes, uh, I do. I think this is, a-a administration that is failing on so many fronts, and what they're trying to do is they're trying to create another diversion. They- they're moving attention for, you know, from all the failures that are going on, and they're going after California. And I do agree with the Governor. Uh, I think this is unconscionable, what the administration is doing here. Uh, the reality is if you look at what they have done, uh, this, uh, dragnet approach that they have taken, most of the people that they're arresting are not people that have been engaging in any crimes. Very few of them actually have any violence, uh, i-in their history. So, what they're doing is they're basically breaking down families, they're creating terror in our communities, they are impacting not only our social fabric, but they're impacting our economic fabric. You know this is really a political stunt that is run by very racist attitudes, and nothing to do with public safety.

Brad Smith: All right. So, why do you think sanctuary laws are so important especially for California? But, but broader speaking, why do you think these sanctuary laws are, are so important?

George Gascon: Look, th-the reality is that we have a broken down immigration system. We have over 11 million people who have been living here, they're working, they are, they're socially a part of the fabric in our communities. They are a major economic engine. And to go after these people when they haven't committed any crime, other than the unlawful stay in this country, has a very disruptive impact overall. As to public safety, when you have sections of our community that are so afraid to come forward and report crimes or work with law enforcement, you create a vacuum, and that vacuum impacts everyone equally. So, from a public safety stance, this is really wrongheaded. From a social science, it's absolutely unconscionable and certainly doesn't work eco-economically.

Brad Smith: You mentioned public safety. The Attorney General says California's position would threaten public safety, opening up borders to more illegal immigration. I-is there any truth to that?

George Gascon: Look, ther-there's absolutely truth to that. You know, th-the people that come here, uh, they're mostly are economic, uh, immigrants. They're coming here because we have the demand for the work, uh, and they have the need to work. We need to fix our immigration system. There is no question that we as a nation, we have sovereignty and we should control our borders. That does not justify what is going on right now, and certainly doesn't justify this war against California, and now these sanctuary jurisdictions, which is purely a political stunt and a distraction.

Brad Smith: And so at the end of this week, we have to talk enforcement too because what do you say to local law enforcement officers who might feel that they're caught in the middle of this debate?

George Gascon: Look, I mean, I can tell you actually, very specifically here in our own jurisdiction, we depend on victims and witnesses to come forward and participate in the legal process. We are having victims of crimes that are refusing to come to court because they're afraid that if they were to come to court, that an ICE agent is gonna be waiting for them, and arresting them or arresting a family member, or a relative. When you have that, you have criminals that are getting away, they're not being held accountable. This is not hypothetical stuff, we have domestic violence case. We have cases of sexual assault that are going on in our jurisdictions today, and we have victims and witnesses that are telling us that they are not going to cooperate because of fear for the coming to court. That is happening because of what Attorney General Sessions and the Trump administration are doing to them.

Brad Smith: Uh, DA, I want to turn to a quote that Jeff Sessions actually said, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today, "There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land." So he does have a point there. If taken to the extreme, can any mayor or governor of a state decide which federal laws he or she would obey? And could that be the path to anarchy?

George Gascon: Well, look, I-I-I think it's a, I-I think it's rather interesting that the Federal Government now is-is talking about Federal supremacy, when-when there are other times when they very quickly jump to State rights, and the ability of States to create their own laws, and enforce their laws their own way. Interestingly enough, California is not necessarily saying to the, to the immigration officers, "Don't come and do your work here." What we're saying is we're not going to cooperate when you're trampling over people's rights, and when you're doing things that are so contrary to the best interest of the people of the State, uh, in terms of public safety, and in terms of the, the social fabric of our community. But I-I find it very disingenuous that you have people that for generations talk about State rights and all of a sudden they're talking about Federal supremacy. I find that, you know, not credible.

Brad Smith: Uh, we only have time for one more question here, but about 30-45 seconds left. Will the threat of a lawsuit case, um, cause you now to change how you enforce Federal immigration cases?

George Gascon: No, I mean, frankly, we're, you know, we're going to, we look forward to our day in court. I know that the Attorney General has taken this case, and that many of us will be filing Amicus briefings, and we'll do what is necessary to get some clarity on the courts. But I-I look forward to our day in court given the nasty direction that the Federal Government wants to go.

Brad Smith: All right. We'll be watching this very closely. Thank you so much for joining us here today on Cheddar to break it all down from what you're seeing over there, boots on the ground. San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón.

George Gascon: Thank you, Brad.