Debra J. Saunders

The Obama administration had gone to federal court to kill Arizona's new illegal-immigration law, scheduled to go into effect on Thursday. The Department of Justice argues that enforcement of the Arizona law "is pre-empted by federal law and therefore violates the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution."

Does this mean that if Team Obama prevails over Arizona, San Francisco and other sanctuary cities should prepare to go to court against the feds?

After all, the Obama brief argues that "a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws. The Constitution and the federal immigration laws do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country."

In 1989, Ess Eff passed a sanctuary city ordinance, which prohibits city employees from working with federal immigration officials, unless required by federal law, state law or warrant.

In 2007, Mayor Gavin Newsom, who is running for lieutenant governor, announced he would not allow city "department heads or anyone associated with this city to cooperate in any way, shape or form" with Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids to arrest immigrant fugitives who had criminal records or had violated deportation orders.

Even when federal law required cooperation, San Francisco had declined. Some time around 2005, city officials determined that they would not notify federal authorities when undocumented juveniles -- or criminals who simply claimed to be under 18 -- were charged with felonies. Instead, the city sent serious and repeat offenders into under-supervised group homes and even flew some offenders back to their home countries.

In 2008, after the feds detained a probation officer flying an illegal immigrant to Honduras, Newsom told city workers to notify ICE when undocumented minors were arrested on felony charges, as per federal law. But the sanctuary city policy itself stands.

Now one would think that if the Obama administration cannot brook "a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country," the U.S. Department of Justice would have sued San Francisco to end its sanctuary city program. But apparently, Team Obama objects when a state wants to enforce the law -- instead of flout it.

Department of Justice spokesperson Hannah August put it this way in an e-mail: "There's a difference between a state or locality saying they are not going to use their resources to enforce a federal law, as so-called sanctuary cities have done, and a state passing its own immigration policy that actively interferes with federal law. That's what Arizona did in this case, and we believe it is an unconstitutional interference with the federal government's prerogative to set and enforce immigration policy."

The DOJ has a point in arguing that the Arizona law's mandatory enforcement provision is likely to interfere with ICE's focus on deporting illegal immigrants with criminal convictions. The Washington Post reported Monday that under President Obama, deportations are on track to be 10 percent above the Bush administration's 2008 total.

Still, a patchwork is a patchwork. When a state wants to push immigration enforcement, that's interference. When cities that get federal funds choose to thwart enforcement, suddenly, it's a resource decision.

E-mail Debra J. Saunders at dsaunders@sfchronicle.com. To find out more about Debra J. Saunders, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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