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California Attorney General Vows To 'Defend' State's Residents Against Trump Policies


That wall that President Trump wants on the U.S.-Mexico border is meant as just a start. The president, yesterday, ordered a series of acts on immigration.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Ends the policy of catch and release at the border, requires other countries to take back their criminals - they will take them back - cracks down on sanctuary cities.

INSKEEP: Let's talk about that last item - so-called sanctuary cities. Now, there is no place in the United States where a fugitive immigrant is entirely safe from arrest. Federal agents can go where they want. But there are cities and counties which have explicitly said it's not their job to actively help with round-ups.

The president's order threatens those cities with a loss of federal funds. It is not clear that he can legally follow through with that, but many cities and states are responding strongly. We reached California's new Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra from a state with many sanctuary cities.

XAVIER BECERRA: We're going to do everything we can to protect the citizens and residents of the state of California. We're going to do everything we can to let people who come to our state to build it know that we want to respect them and defend them. And we're going to do everything we can to make sure we abide by all the laws, starting with the U.S. Constitution.

INSKEEP: What are some things that localities in California refuse to do when it comes to immigration law?

BECERRA: Principally, what it is - is that most of the local jurisdictions and law enforcement refuse to do is to violate the U.S. Constitution by holding people that they no longer have a basis to detain simply because the federal immigration authorities say please hold on to those folks. You cannot detain people, under the Fourth Amendment, without justification to do so.

INSKEEP: Attorney General Becerra, the way that you describe a sanctuary city makes this seem like a rather narrow issue. The term sanctuary city sounds far more dramatic than the acts you're describing.

BECERRA: And that's, Steve, the issue is that some people have tried to turn the word sanctuary into something that it's not. Sanctuary doesn't mean that you're protecting violent, dangerous criminals from the hands of law enforcement, whether federal or local. It simply means that we are not going to go out there and engage in activities that go beyond what the U.S. Constitution says we should do with people who are law-abiding, working hard, improving the neighborhoods and communities where they live.

We also don't want to have people who fear talking to police officers simply because the federal immigration authorities would like our local law enforcement authorities to be aggressive beyond what legally they're supposed to do.

INSKEEP: What is the state of California going to do if cities start losing federal funding over this?

BECERRA: That's a question that has to yet be answered in a way that gives us a chance to look at the facts because the state of California, when it receives federal resources, it does so because it's sent over taxpayer dollars from the people of California. So we will do everything we can to defend our local California taxpayers from being denied the resources that they paid for.

If the federal government has a reason to block funding or deny resources to the state of California, we will certainly look at that and challenge it if it doesn't seem right. But we don't believe that we should be losing money for police officers and community policing simply because we're abiding by the U.S. Constitution when it comes to the treatment of immigrants.

INSKEEP: I think you're hinting around at a fact that California is one of the states that, when people calculate these things, tends to pay more in taxes than it receives back. Is that right - federal taxes?

BECERRA: Without a doubt. California is a donor state to the federal Treasury. We always, as taxpayers in the state of California, pay more in taxes than we get back to our state. And so we're going to fight where we need to to make sure that we get the resources that we provided to the federal Treasury. And we'll make sure that we're abiding by every law that we must, starting with the U.S. Constitution.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another thing, attorney general. California, as some people will know, has stricter auto emission standards than the country as a whole. You had to get, as a state, a waiver from the federal government to impose those standards. President Obama granted the waiver. Now there's a new administration, and the incoming EPA administrator, the nominee, hasn't said definitively whether he would allow that waiver or not. Is that something you would be prepared to go to court to uphold - stricter emission standards for California?

BECERRA: Steve, we're not turning back when it comes to climate change and clean energy. We received a waiver from the federal government. We will do everything we can to defend our position, and we will do more if necessary. We've relied on the representations and the tools that the federal government permitted us to use. And if the federal government wants to, all of a sudden, yank those away, we will do everything we can to prove that, based on the facts and the law, that California has a right to move forward.

INSKEEP: And when you say based on the facts and the law that means that could be another lawsuit if it came to that.

BECERRA: We're going to do what we need to to move forward. We will continue with our policies. We'll continue with our actions that have made California a state where people want to live and work. We'll do whatever we need to do to continue our way of life and our way forward.

INSKEEP: One other thing, attorney general. Of course, there's been a lot of debates about state rights throughout American history. There was a time when more conservative states were asserting state rights against a powerful federal government. Do you find yourself becoming an advocate of state rights?

BECERRA: Steve, what's really interesting in that comparison of the use of states' rights is that in previous generations, some states asserted their rights under the 10th Amendment to challenge other constitutional provisions that protected the rights of individuals.

INSKEEP: Civil rights legislation, for example, right. OK.

BECERRA: Right, or just the 14th Amendment - equal protection under the law. And using the 10th Amendment to try to undermine the 14th Amendment, to me, was not what the founders of this nation meant when they enacted the 10th Amendment.

INSKEEP: We should remind people, the 10th Amendment, if I'm not mistaken, says that all powers that are not explicitly granted to the federal government are reserved to the states. Is that right?

BECERRA: That's correct. When we talk about the rights of states to move forward, whether it's on clean energy or our treatment of immigrants, it's to respect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, not undermine the Bill of Rights.

INSKEEP: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, thanks very much.

BECERRA: Steve, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.