After a brief closed-session meeting Tuesday, Santa Clara County leaders decided to file a lawsuit against President Donald Trump over his executive orders related to immigration.
The Board of Supervisors discussed possible legal action against the federal government behind closed doors in the afternoon, then approved the lawsuit Tuesday evening in open session. Supervisors are upset with Trump's newly signed executive orders that require compliance with federal Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials and other security agencies in order to receive $300 million in promised federal funds.
Supervisors say they've been preparing for some time for such an action.
"We've been gearing up for the last two months, anticipating this kind of coercion, almost extortion, from the federal government," board President Dave Cortese said. "You know, 'We're going to hold your $300 million, we're going to starve out your citizens in terms of federal money if you don't behave the way we want you to behave.'"
Cortese compared the legal action to what the ACLU did when it sued the Trump administration after the president's immigration ban.
"I know it sounds unorthodox that a little county like Santa Clara County could get a restraining order to stop the federal government from doing something like an executive order," Cortese said. "The fact of the matter is the judicial branch is available to us, and it's a very effective way to slow things down and get a neutral party to start looking at what's going on here before all hell breaks loose."
The board president also pointed out that the action isn't designed as a political statement, saying the loss of $300 million would impact programs that affect almost everybody.
County officials said later Tuesday the loss could be up to $1 billion when matching funds are considered. And if the county does lose that money,there would be cuts to services from hospitals and parks to employees in the county building.
Fariba Nejat of the Iranian federated women's club says she can't imagine the impact the budget cuts would have on the quality of life in the county.
"It's about people's lives, the heart of the people who built this county, and it's going to be a real disaster," she said.
It could come down to this for Santa Clara County: Go along with the president or lose all that money, according to legal experts.
"I'm hoping that they stay strong and protect people and the pressure from the federal government doesn't cause them to wobble at all," said Ruth Silver Taube of Santa Clara University Law School.
Cortese said the cost of the lawsuit will be minimal. Pro bono law firms and the county Impact Litigation department will handle it, and they may join with lawsuits from other government entities down the road.