California Dreamin’ – The Rights of Illegal Aliens Matter, The Safety of Citizens and Legal Residents Doesn’t

Newsweek has just declared that, “More than 2.3 million undocumented immigrants in California are now officially protected under a new state sanctuary law.” Of course, unless California just seceded from the Union that’s not really true.

Yes, the Golden State just passed Senate Bill 54 (S.B. 54), declaring itself a “sanctuary state,” whatever that means. But, the last time anyone checked, California was still one of the fifty states that make up the United States of America – even though it doesn’t act like one.

And regardless of whether the California state legislature likes it, federal law, including the Immigration and Nationality Act, still applies there. Which means that foreigners who snuck into the United States or overstayed a visa aren’t “undocumented immigrants.” They’re just illegal aliens. Even if they decided to hang out in California.

What does S.B. 54 actually do? More of the same foolishness that sanctuary cities have already engaged in:

It bars police departments from detaining people based on their immigration status.

  • It prohibits jails and prisons from holding illegal aliens for arrest by federal immigration authorities.
  • It prevents immigrants from being delivered to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers unless they are convicted of certain felonies and misdemeanors.
  • It limits the amount of personal information federal immigration officials can access on illegal aliens through state and local records. (Which appears to be a clear violation of federal law.)

So, are illegal aliens now immune to immigration enforcement from the San Francisco Bay to the High Sierra? Not by a long-shot. Border Patrol Agents and ICE Officers can still arrest illegal aliens in California. S.B. 54 just makes it more difficult for state and local law enforcement authorities to cooperate with them. But as FAIR has noted on numerous occasions, federal law enforcement officials have nationwide jurisdiction and don’t need to ask a state’s permission to enforce federal laws.

In fact, California was forced to acknowledge that fact in this legislation – S.B. 54 specifically “allows” federal immigration authorities to go into jails to question illegal aliens and to work with state correctional officials. From a legal standpoint, however, it seems pretty clear that a state government doesn’t have the authority to prohibit federal officials from questioning illegal aliens. Doing so would appear to be a federal crime.

One hopes that the Trump administration will take action to wake the Golden State up from its California dreamin’. However, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which covers California is notoriously pro-illegal alien. And the Supreme Court has, thus far, side-stepped any decisions on contested Trump immigration enforcement programs. Meanwhile, California can claim the dubious distinction of being a state that places the “rights” of illegal aliens above the safety and security of its own citizens.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    This that California is doing is what one would call cutting of their nose to spite their face . A crime is a crime just let us try to do that in a Latin American country … you can not work there I tried once ! ❤️Chole

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  3. avatar

    For those who think Trump hasn’t done everything he should, consider what would have been if it had been president Hillary. She made it perfectly clear that you had to be convicted of a major violent felony to be deported. Trump’s slogan is Make America Great Again. The Democrat’s slogan is Make America Into Mexico. And doing a splendid job of it they are. The Democrats and the left keep telling white working class voters we want to listen to you. And indeed, they do listen and then call you a racist if you want border enforcement and removal of illegals. In other words, the same thing every country is entitled to.

    The idea that the southwest U.S. was a part of historic Mexico is simply another of the rewrites of history the left loves. The southwest was composed of colonies belonging to Spain for over three centuries. Mexico itself was just another Spanish colony centered around Mexico City. They claimed control of them after proclaiming their independence from Spain but that was no more than a couple decades. Meanwhile they were unable to get citizens of Mexico to move to those former colonies and were able to maintain only the barest control. So much so that they invited Americans to move to Texas so they would tame the land. Eventually the Americans grew tired of the corrupt central government, nothing new there, and formed the Republic of Texas.

    • avatar

      True that Trump is about a thousand times better than Hillary on immigration, who would like nothing better than to turn the entire country into one big California. California’s government sends a clear message to American citizens, that citizens of foreign countries who have broken our laws to come to the US are more important than you are. My advice to any Americans living in California is get out as soon as possible, before the state’s impending bankruptcy inevitably occurs.