LOS ANGELES — Top law enforcement officials from the Trump administration chastised California’s chief judge this week, saying that it was “troubling” that she described federal immigration agents as “stalking” local courthouses in order to arrest undocumented immigrants.
The response suggested there would be no quick end to the feud between California and federal officials over how immigration laws are enforced and arrests are made.
Two weeks ago, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the chief justice of California, wrote a letter to Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, and John F. Kelly, the secretary of Homeland Security, after several judges and lawyers in California and elsewhere began complaining about seeing ICE agents in and around courthouses.
Ms. Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, wrote that she worried that the practice would erode the public’s trust of the court system and stop crime victims from seeking justice.
“I am deeply concerned about reports from some of our trial courts that immigration agents appear to be stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests,” she wrote.
In a sharply worded response released Friday, Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly suggested that Justice Cantil-Sakauye should direct her concerns to Gov. Jerry Brown and to law enforcement officials who refuse federal requests to detain unauthorized immigrants so that they can be picked up for deportation proceedings. A number of California municipalities are “sanctuary cities” that limit police cooperation with the immigration authorities.
“Such policies threaten public safety, rather than enhance it,” Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly wrote in their joint letter. They added that when local jails do not turn over undocumented immigrants, federal agents then must look for them when they are out in public, presenting a greater danger to officers because the immigrant may be armed or attempt to escape. By arresting immigrants in court, where they are typically screened for weapons, they said, “the safety risks for the arresting officers and persons being arrested are substantially decreased.”
Mr. Sessions and Mr. Kelly were particularly critical of M. Cantil-Sakauye’s use of the term “stalking.”
“As the chief judicial officer of the state of California, your characterization of federal law enforcement officers is particularly troubling,” they wrote. “As you are aware, stalking has a specific legal meaning in American law, which describes criminal activity involving repetitive following or harassment of the victim with the intent to produce fear or harm.”
The California court system was closed Friday in observance of the Cesar E. Chavez holiday and Justice Cantil-Sakauye could not be reached for comment. But she repeated her concerns in an address to the California state Legislature last week, saying it represented a dangerous path.
In an interview with a California public radio station, the judge said she intentionally chose the term stalking.
“I used that word because it is what’s happening,” she said. “It may not be what the exact intention is, but that’s how victims feel, that’s how the public begins to feel about that kind of behavior.”
The dispute between the state and federal governments goes beyond the choice of words. The California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, filed a legal brief last week supporting San Francisco’s lawsuit against the Justice Department’s plan to deny some federal grant money to sanctuary cities.
The brief calls the administration’s targeting of sanctuary cities “an aggressive attempt by President Trump to coerce state and local jurisdictions into participating in immigration enforcement even in situations where that participation would undermine public safety and go against the best judgement of law enforcement officials who are most familiar with local communities.”
Continue reading the main story