California prides itself on being first with progressive laws on climate change, labor rights and marijuana. In 2018, the Golden State’s “firsts” are defensive – bold proposals and legal maneuvers to protect citizens from Donald Trump.
State leaders have pushed legislation and lawsuits to circumvent and undo Trump’s agenda on immigration, the environment, internet freedom and other liberal causes. One of the most consequential victories came Tuesday when a judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end a program that allows 800,000 undocumented people to study and work in the US.
At the same time, activists have also launched grassroots campaigns to shield residents from the White House’s attacks – and to pressure local Democrats to do more to mobilize the largest state against the president.
California lawmakers have adopted the most expansive “sanctuary state” law in the country, restricting police from questioning people about citizenship status and limiting cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).
A US judge in San Francisco sided with California on Tuesday in the Daca battle, ruling that the Obama-era program that protects “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children – must remain in place.
But Trump – who has a reputation for being vindictive and has openly expressed disdain for California – is on track to retaliate. Ice already arrested hundreds in targeted raids in sanctuary cities last year, and the agency’s acting director has promised to ramp up deportations in the state this year, even suggesting California politicians should be prosecuted.
Across California, vast networks of attorneys and volunteer advocates have formed, leading the resistance to Ice on the ground, sometimes saving lives in the process.
Though Obama deported more immigrants than any other president, the need is even greater now with Ice indiscriminately picking up people in raids, according to Maria Sofia Corona-Alamillo, an attorney working with the Los Angeles County Rapid Response Network.
“The immediate goal is to provide a first line of defense for community members that are facing removal from the country and imprisonment in government-run detention centers, which we for many reasons find inhumane.”
Last year, she said the network mobilized after Ice agents showed up to an auto repair shop with guns drawn and, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, arrested a group of workers even though they had a warrant for only one individual. Ice declined to comment.
Jennifer Lee Koh, an attorney with a Sacramento network, said she represented a Mexican immigrant who was apprehended and threatened with deportation last year. Instead of the typical outcome of removal, the network helped the man, who has three young children, get temporary relief, and he is now on track to get a green card.
“We counter this climate of fear and terror that a lot of these enforcement actions bring to these communities,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, attorney coordinator with the Northern California Rapid Response Network.
There’s more legislators could to proactively protect immigrants, activists argued. Koh urged California governor Jerry Brown to issue more pardons to immigrants threatened with deportation due to previous criminal convictions.
Some have argued that stricter enforcement of sanctuary rules is necessary considering that even in liberal jurisdictions like Los Angeles and Oakland, local police have been caught continuing to assist Ice.
Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said California should provide “universal representation” – ensuring access to lawyers for all immigrants facing deportation: “Give everyone a fair chance to fight.”
Trump unveiled a plan last week to open up US offshore territory to oil and gas drilling, including previously protected areas along the Pacific ocean.
The administration later reversed its position, saying it would not allow drilling off the Florida coast, following pressure from the state’s Republican governor. That further fueled claims that Trump was again targeting California, which has the world’s sixth largest economy and overwhelmingly voted against the president.
Brown condemned the decision, and lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom said the state was working to prevent new federal drilling leases.
“We have a beautiful pristine coastline. We are going to do everything in our power to make sure it remains that way,” said state senate leader Kevin de León.
Despite the defiant statements, environmentalists argued that Brown has a poor record on oil and gas, with not-for-profit Consumer Watchdog pointing to his administration’s approval of more than 200 new offshore wells between 2012 and 2016.
Brown should halt all offshore drilling in state waters, said Liza Tucker, the group’s energy project director: “That would be truly drawing a line in the sand.”
Brown’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Days after California launched what is expected to be the largest recreational cannabis market in the world, US attorney general Jeff Sessions announced he was repealing an Obama-era policy that had allowed states to legalize pot.
Amid bipartisan backlash, California lawmakers said they were preparing to resist a potential crackdown on weed through a new law that could establish a “sanctuary state” for cannabis.
Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer said he knows seniors, veterans, relatives and others who depend on medical cannabis – motivating him to advance legislation that would block the state from assisting federal authorities in arrests, investigations or prosecution targeting legal operations.
“Jeff Sessions’ call for cannabis enforcement is not only ill-conceived, it’s still that federal war on drugs that hasn’t worked … which is really a war on African Americans and Latinos.”
Criminal justice reform advocates have also urged California leaders to decrease its prison and jail populations for drug crimes and help people with past convictions work in the legal market.
Sessions’ attacks have “only advanced our cause quicker and further”, added Erich Pearson, a cannabis CEO in San Francisco: “We’re in a much more organized time than we’ve ever been.”
Trump’s tax reform legislation, the most drastic change to the code in 30 years, is slated to hurt California by setting a $10,000 cap on the amount of property and income taxes that residents can deduct from federal taxes. The average California deduction was nearly $8,500 more than the new cap, according to one analysis, meaning many stand to suffer.
Lawmakers, however, are hoping to bypass Trump’s policy with the Protect California Taxpayers Act, which would allow state residents to make charitable donations to a fund and receive a tax credit in exchange.
“We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme,” de León said in a statement.
If the bill is successful, other states could follow suit.
In a state home to the world’s most powerful technology companies, the recent repeal of net neutrality rules, designed to protect an open internet, sparked significant protests. The win for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, dismantled regulations that ensured internet service providers (ISPs) treated all websites equally and couldn’t charge some more for delivering certain services.
While Democrats in Washington DC work to overturn the repeal, California lawmakers are working to reinstate net neutrality in the Golden State. The bill would empower California regulators and law enforcement to establish and enforce net neutrality requirements on ISPs operating in the state.