ICE officers detail a suspect
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles. Photo by Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via REUTERS

A federal judge on Thursday upheld most of California’s controversial sanctuary law, but said employers in the state may cooperate with U.S. immigration officials.

Sacramento-based U.S. District Judge John Mendez, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, warned that his rulings would in no way settle the immigration debate.

“There is no place for politics in our judicial system and this one opinion will neither define nor solve the complicated immigration issues currently facing our nation,” Mendez wrote.

California’s sanctuary law sets limits on cooperation between state and local law enforcement officials and federal immigration authorities such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The Trump administration argued that California was legally obligated to assist in immigration enforcement.

“The laws make enforcement more burdensome than it would be if state and local law enforcement provided immigration officers with their assistance,” Mendez wrote. “But refusing to help is not the same as impeding.”

However, he blocked a provision in the California law that banned private employers from voluntarily cooperating with immigration officials.

The sanctuary laws are in Senate Bill 54, which was passed last year in response to the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions announced during a trip to Sacramento in March that the administration would sue the state over its immigration laws.

California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, whose office defended the laws, hailed Mendez’ ruling, saying in a statement, “The right of states to determine how to provide public safety and general welfare to their people continues to stand strong.”

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.