SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The nation's top immigration enforcer is likely to testify in a lawsuit brought by the Trump administration over California's so-called sanctuary laws seeking to protect people in the country illegally, a federal judge said Wednesday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall Newman said his "strong inclination" is to require four hours of sworn testimony by Thomas Homan, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's acting director. He said a final order is imminent.
Homan must back up claims that the federal government is suffering "irreparable harm" from three California laws that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities by employers and state and local law enforcement agencies, Newman said.
He rejected the argument by U.S. Justice Department attorney Lauren Bingham that such testimony would be too burdensome on a busy agency director.
"You've made your point. It doesn't fly anywhere," Newman said.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced during a speech in Sacramento this month that the federal government is suing to block the California laws, the Republican administration's toughest move yet to force cooperation with immigration authorities.
The suit is based in part on Homan's 45-page written declaration citing several "egregious consequences" from the state's lack of cooperation, including examples of California agencies releasing immigrants who could have been deported but instead were free to commit violent crimes.
By including Homan's written statement, "you're pretty much teeing that person up" to face cross-examination under oath, Newman said.
Bingham said Homan will give his deposition in a secure location in Washington, D.C., the second week of April.
Newman is also set to order four hours of testimony from Todd Hoffman, an official with U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Bingham said he will testify the first week of April.
The Justice Department is seeking a preliminary injunction blocking the California laws that took effect this year. The state's steps include trying to move the case from federal court in Sacramento to one in San Francisco.
The state's lawyers wanted to question Homan for a full day about ICE's policies, practices and detention facilities as they contest the department's assertion that the laws are causing such serious harm that they should stopped temporarily while the underlying lawsuit plays out over months or years. Newman said the state's lawyers should narrow their questioning only to how California's laws are ostensibly harming the federal government's immigration policy enforcement efforts.
Newman rejected the Justice Department's contention that Homan's testimony isn't needed because the legal argument is whether California's laws trump the federal government's broader authority over protecting the nation's borders.
"The purpose, we think, is really to slow down our request for preliminary relief," August Flentje, a Justice Department special counsel, said of the state's request to cross-examine the federal officials.
The state's lawyers said in court papers that Homan's sworn declaration "represents the crux of the United States' claims of irreparable harm" and indirectly questioned his truthfulness. For instance, the state cited the recent resignation of ICE spokesman James Schwab, who quit over what he said were misleading Trump administration statements about a recent Northern California sweep targeting illegal immigration.
Newman said he will order Homan and Hoffman to bring along written documents backing up their claims. He quipped that if they don't have written proof, they can say where they got their information, like "I heard it on Fox News."
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