Since President Donald Trump took office last year, California has been leading the fight against many of the actions coming from his administration.
At the forefront is the state’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has filed 32 lawsuits against the Trump administration in the past 16 months, including one challenging the travel ban and most recently, blocking the federal government from reducing access to family planning programs.
During a recent roundtable with Asian media outlets in Los Angeles, Becerra fielded questions about issues relevant to the various Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities throughout California.
Last month, a coalition of 19 states led by California filed an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit filed by several Planned Parenthood branches in an effort to stop the federal government from changing the requirements for Title X.
The program, which provides family planning and preventative health services, covers around 4 million individuals — 1 million of whom live in California, Becerra said.
“[That] announcement was for that purpose to make it clear that we don’t believe that medical providers should be forced to withhold information that could be crucial for women in making health care decisions,” the attorney general said. “These types of gag orders only hurt, not help people who are seeking good medical care and so we’re going to do whatever we can to fight to support the family planning programs that have worked so well for so many people throughout the country.”
Other issues covered during the conversation include immigration, human and drug trafficking, and urging communities to know what resources and authorities are available if needed.
With regard to immigration, California’s lawsuits against the administration have included: one over its plans to withhold federal funding to sanctuary jurisdictions that do not cooperate with federal immigration agents; for its move to shut down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program; and challenging the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
While immigrant communities wait for legislation to come out of Washington, Becerra said his office will continue “watching what the federal government does with regards to immigrants and immigrant families.”
“Any changes in immigration law are exclusively done by the federal government because the states don’t have control under our Constitution of immigration law and so we would have to see what the Congress does and the president does when it comes to the issue of immigration law,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. We have already taken action as you’re aware of immigration matters that pertain to the people of California.”
Trump held a roundtable with state and local officials from California about the state’s sanctuary laws, during which he defended his use of “animals” when referring to MS-13 gang members.
Becerra said while some parts of California do not agree with the laws — at least 14 Southern California cities and two counties have passed ordinances against these protections — the state is “prepared to defend the state laws in court.”
“[We’re] prepared to make sure that everyone obeys the law so we feel that the place to debate, the legitimacy of any law is in the court and that’s why we’ve taken the Trump administration to court 32 times and we believe that if someone has a concern with regard to any state law that, they understand that the best place to have that debate about that law is in the court,” he noted.
Among the criticisms of Becerra include that he has been focused on challenging the actions coming out of Washington, to which he responded that those individuals “obviously don’t know what the attorney general’s office does.”
Besides the lawsuits, however, the attorney general asserted strides his department has made in terms of seizing firearms, catching sex traffickers, and taking down those who engage in fraudulent activity.
Earlier this year, his department reportedly took down a sex trafficking operation in Sacramento that involved young women from Asian countries, many of whom were from the Philippines.
“For [critics] to think that the only work that we’re doing in the [California] Department of Justice is in pushing back the overreach of the federal government is to not understand what we do, is to not understand that day to day, we’re protecting consumers from fraudulent activity by merchants and companies, that we’re going after sex traffickers and drug traffickers and criminal gangs, that we’re removing weapons from the hands of people who lost them,” he said.
He added, “All those things had nothing to do with Donald Trump. So for someone to charge that the men and women who are special agents in the Department of Justice or the men and women who are the attorneys who protect our state are doing nothing but worrying about Donald Trump, it’s to say that these folks are out of touch with what the Department of Justice does.”
For many immigrant communities, language barriers and unfamiliarity with the U.S. government system make them more prone to being taken advantage of.
“The most important thing is to give people a sense of confidence that there’s someone they could reach out to and that they can trust because often times, especially for example, if you were undocumented, you may want to go to the authorities but you can’t trust that they won’t send you to the immigration authorities and then you’ll be deported,” Becerra said. “If you knew that they would not send you to immigration, you’d probably report the crime and so we have to develop the confidence and the trust. Once you develop the confidence and the trust, we have to make sure that you understand the law, the system, so this way you know what’s going to happen so you’re never blind to what the next step is.”
Becerra, a former congressman who was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown as attorney general after Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, faced re-election on June 5. (Christina M. Oriel / AJPress)