By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Wednesday extolled a major California county for joining his administration's legal challenge to the state's new limits on how much local police and sheriff's departments support his rigorous deportation policy.
"My Administration stands in solidarity with the brave citizens in Orange County defending their rights against California's illegal and unconstitutional Sanctuary policies," Trump wrote in a tweet.
The Justice Department had earlier welcomed the decision by California's third largest county to join its lawsuit challenging the "sanctuary state" law, officially known as SB 54, that Democratic-governed California enacted late last year. The Orange County board of supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday evening to link arms with the administration.
“Orange County’s residents have experienced firsthand the negative effects of SB 54, which mandates releasing criminal aliens back into their communities instead of into the custody of federal immigration authorities," said Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley.
The law bars local law enforcement from supporting Republican Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration with money, facilities and access to people held in custody. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump promised to take a tough stance on immigration and refugees. Since taking office he has zealously pursued his promises to construct a wall along the country's border with Mexico and ramp up deportations.
The Justice Department, led by Republican Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has sued cities that officially do not cooperate with federal authorities in order to provide "sanctuary" to immigrants residing within their borders illegally.
In his tweets on Wednesday, Trump said "all citizens have the right to be protected by Federal law and strong borders."
Orange County has long been considered the conservative counterpoint to its liberal neighbor to the north, Los Angeles. In recent years it has shown signs of an identity shift and the lawsuit could underline growing social and political rifts in its seaside cities.
The county supported Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, in the 2016 presidential election, the first time it voted for a Democrat since the Great Depression. Meanwhile, nearly one-third of its residents were born in another country, and people of Hispanic and Asian origins make up more than half the county's population, according to the U.S. Census.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bill Trott)