WASHINGTON • The US Justice Department has sued California over its so-called sanctuary city laws, stepping up the Trump administration's battle against cities and states offering protection to illegal immigrants.
The suit, filed on Tuesday in the US District Court in Sacramento, challenges three statutes that the state has passed in support of cities that have refused to meet the demands of federal immigration authorities to hand over undocumented immigrants for prosecution or expulsion.
The statutes "reflect a deliberate effort by California to obstruct the United States' enforcement of federal immigration law", the suit said.
"(The US Constitution) does not allow California to obstruct the United States' ability to enforce laws that Congress has enacted or to take actions entrusted to it by the Constitution."
In an open challenge to President Donald Trump's determined push to halt illegal immigration and expel potentially millions of people who came to the US without papers, Governor Jerry Brown last October signed legislation making all of California a "sanctuary state".
One law, the California Values Act, strictly limits state and local agencies from sharing information with federal agents about criminals or suspects unless they have been convicted of serious crimes.
Numerous cities and counties had already declared themselves immigrant sanctuaries, meaning they would not cooperate with federal immigration agents seeking to round up illegal immigrants.
The federal authorities, including the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection agencies, say the sanctuaries policy allows dangerous criminal immigrants to go free.
The lawsuit against California, home to nearly one-quarter of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants across the US, is the first against a local or state government over its immigration policies filed by the Justice Department under Attorney-General Jeff Sessions.
Department officials said they would not rule out lawsuits against other local governments.
Both Mr Sessions and President Trump have also threatened to pull federal grant money from cities and states that have sanctuary laws to protect unauthorised immigrants.
The suit named Governor Brown and state attorney-general Xavier Becerra, both strident defenders of undocumented immigrants, as defendants.
Mr Brown blasted back at Mr Sessions. "At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarise America," Mr Brown said on Twitter.
"Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they won't work here. SAD!!!"
The suit is just the latest in a string of court battles over the Trump administration's immigration policies.
The administration has lost in most of them, especially in its efforts to restrict immigration from a number of mostly Muslim countries.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES