undocumented sessions

People protested outside a speech by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions March 7, 2018, in Sacramento, California. Sessions warned California that the federal government would use all its legal powers to fight protections provided unauthorized immigrants, a day after suing the state over its sanctuary laws. “California is seeking to protect its residents. It has every right not to participate in activities that violate people’s constitutional rights,” Indian American Manju Kulkarni, executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, told India-West. (Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images)

("In what we hope to be a precedent-setting move, India-West will now identify undocumented Indians as Indian Americans, acknowledging the fact that many have lived for several decades in the U.S., and call this country their home." — Editor)

Three California laws – including the groundbreaking SB 54, passed last fall by the State Legislature – faced an aggressive challenge March 6, as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a lawsuit that claims that the statutes prohibit federal agents from doing their jobs.

More than 96,000 undocumented Indian Americans in California are protected by the state’s sanctuary laws, which limit the extent to which state and local law enforcement can communicate with federal immigration authorities. The statutes prohibit local law enforcement from asking people about their immigration status and also prohibit police from interacting with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents who are seeking to arrest and deport undocumented residents.

 “California is using every power it has – and some it doesn't – to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I'm going to use every power I have to stop them,” Sessions told law enforcement officials in Sacramento March 7.

California state leadership has scoffed at the lawsuit. “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here,” tweeted Governor Jerry Brown.

An estimated 18 percent of the more than 500,000 Indian Americans residing in California are undocumented. Indian Americans make up almost 21 percent of the undocumented Asian American population in the state, according to AAPIdata.com.

“It is important for us to recognize that this is a vital issue affecting our community,” Indian American Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and executive director of AAPI Data, told India-West.

An estimated 434,372 undocumented Indians reside in the U.S., according to AAPI Data; California is home to more than one-fifth of that population.

“California’s sanctuary state policy has played a major role in pushing undocumented residents towards social and economic inclusion. It has recognized the contributions of immigrants to our society. Anything that the White House does to attack that will have a major impact on the community,” said Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the School of Public Policy at UC Riverside.

Ramakrishnan noted that a large percentage of undocumented Indians are senior citizens who have overstayed a tourist visa, or H-1B workers and their dependents who have been unable to adjust their status.

Manju Kulkarni, Indian American executive director of the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, told India-West the Trump administration is pointing to the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070 – known informally as the “show me your papers” bill – to prove the constitutionality of federal law superseding state law. The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of SB 1070, which mandated local law enforcement to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspected of being undocumented. Immigration activists argued against the measure, saying it amounted to racial profiling.

“These are very different laws,” explained Kulkarni. “California is seeking to protect its residents. It has every right not to participate in activities that violate people’s constitutional rights. The state is saying ‘we’re not going to participate in unconstitutional activity.’”

“This is going to be up to the courts. I hope California will prevail,” the long-time community activist told India-West. “Getting local law enforcement to participate with ICE is not a way to protect California’s communities. It keeps people from calling the police, from seeing the doctor, and accessing any kind of benefits,” she said, adding: “There is a great deal of fear about ICE.”

Kulkarni noted that Sessions has long been an opponent of both legal and undocumented immigration. “He wants to create a white, nationalist state. They’re going to fight us tooth and nail.”

The Trump administration has already indicated its anti-sanctuary state agenda in California, via a series of three ICE raids this year at worksites that traditionally employ primarily immigrant workers (see India-West story here: http://bit.ly/2tsJC2S).

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., lambasted Sessions and President Donald Trump in a statement issued March 7. “Last night we learned Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions are filing a lawsuit against my home state of California for refusing to comply with their anti-immigrant agenda.”

“This is a shameful stunt designed to intimidate California officials and endanger our public safety. It won’t work,” said the Indian American senator, who formerly served as California’s attorney general. “We will always fight to uphold the core values of our nation. That means standing up for the idea that America is a nation of immigrants and our diversity makes us a stronger country.”

“No state in the union has more immigrants – documented and undocumented – than California, and they’re counting on us to fight for them,” stated Harris.

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