SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will add a gaggle of new lawyers and bolster a defense fund for undocumented immigrants in the face of a raft of legal battles with the Trump administration under a new budget proposal offered by Gov. Jerry Brown (D).
The new proposal, the result of months of negotiation with Democratic legislative leaders, comes after Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) requested additional funding for his office. It would add $6.5 million to Becerra’s budget, and another $15 million to provide legal defense services to immigrants fighting deportation orders.
The money is a drop in the bucket in California’s $120 billion-plus annual budget. But it reflects a Democratic legislative majority that sees itself as the tip of the resistance spear and an attorney general who shows little hesitance in challenging the federal government.
In his first several months in office, Becerra has challenged the Trump administration over its order temporarily blocking immigrants and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S., a threat to block Justice Department law enforcement grants to cities and states that act as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants, and a delay of energy efficiency rules.
“We need to have the talent in place, the personnel,” Becerra said in an interview in his office Tuesday, overlooking the California State Capitol a few blocks away. “It’s a little disturbing, more than surprising, to see how rapidly the Trump administration is trying to abandon or undo what is constitutionally not only required, but in some cases permitted.”
Becerra said he had reached out to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to discuss the immigration-related orders specifically. He was sharply critical of President Trump and his allies, who he said have pursued unconstitutional policies.
“Donald Trump is not just a dangerous and unprepared occupant in the White House. What’s more dangerous is the people who are serving as accomplices and should know better but are standing by as he does these crazy things,” Becerra said. “So much of what the Trump administration started doing turned out to be unconstitutional.”
Republicans in California’s legislature say Democrats are going too far to prove themselves as members of the resistance, to the potential detriment of the relationship between state and federal levels of government. State Sen. John Moorlach (R), the ranking Republican on the state Senate Judiciary Committee, said the new proposals were a “misappropriation of funds.”
“Being antagonistic towards the federal government is counterproductive,” said Moorlach, whose family immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands. “There are a lot of immigrants, like myself, that are not amused, in fact offended, that undocumented immigrants are getting subsidized legal assistance.”
But Republicans are in the minority in California’s legislature and cannot block legislation, leaving it to Democrats to negotiate with Brown over budget levels.
And the liberal Democratic majority in California’s legislature is eager to take on Trump on as many fronts as possible. The legislature took the unusual step earlier this year of hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under former President Barack Obama, as its own legal counsel.
“We’re going to use every tool in the tool box to protect our citizens. That means we’re going to take a page out of Texas’s playbook,” state Sen. Mike McGuire (D) said in an interview. “The threat [from the Trump administration] to our livelihood, to our economy, to the state budget are very real.”
Becerra said he was disappointed and disturbed by new federal sentencing guidelines, laid out by Sessions last week, that instruct prosecutors to seek the harshest possible punishments for drug offenders. Those guidelines stand juxtaposed to bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to overhaul the criminal justice system, a program backed by big donors including liberal George Soros and the conservative-libertarian Charles and David Koch.
The guidelines are especially troubling in California, one of eight states where voters have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
“This is the 21st century. We should not be talking about criminalizing marijuana. We should be talking about regulating marijuana,” Becerra said. “I think it’s just a shame that we would think the best way to address serious violent crime would be to start going after folks for small quantities of marijuana.”