Anti-Immigrant signs pop up on California highways as state becomes a sanctuary

As California officially became a “sanctuary state” at the start of the new year, fake signs with anti-immigrant messages appeared near the state’s borders.

“Official sanctuary state. Felons, Illegals and MS13 Welcome!” the signs read. “Democrats Need The Votes!”

The messages had been papered over existing signs, California Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Dinger told HuffPost on Wednesday.

They referred to a new law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) in October and effective Jan. 1, that limits local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration officials and prohibits police from generally inquiring into people’s immigration status. The California Values Act does not, however, bar police from working with immigration officials in the cases of people convicted of a wide range of felonies.

The signs suggested that undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals.

Conservative leaders, including President Donald Trump, have repeatedly and falsely portrayed immigrants as more likely to commit criminal acts. Trump and others have pointed to MS-13 ― a gang started in Los Angeles that spread to other U.S. cities and to Central America ― as a reason for stronger immigration enforcement.

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Demonstrators yell slogans during second day of anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests inside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kate Munsch
Demonstrators hold welcome signs for immigrants during second day of anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests inside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Kate Munsch
Running for U.S. Senate in California congresswoman Loretta Sanchez holds a news conference on comprehensive immigration reform in San Diego, California, U.S., November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Valente Martinez, 22, marches with Mexican and U.S. flags under an inflatable effigy of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during an immigrant rights May Day rally in Los Angeles, California, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
MURRIETA, CA - JULY 7: Anti-immigration activists protest outside of the U.S. Border Patrol Murrieta Station on July 7, 2014 in Murrieta, California. Immigration protesters have staged rallies in front of the station for about a week in response to a wave of undocumented immigrant children caught along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and transported to the Murrieta facility while awaiting deportation proceedings. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
MURRIETA, CA - JULY 7: Anti-immigration activist Sabina Durden (R) and immigration sympathizer Mary Estrada (L) debate during a protest outside of the U.S. Border Patrol Murrieta Station on July 7, 2014 in Murrieta, California. Immigration protesters have staged rallies in front of the station for about a week in response to a wave of undocumented immigrant children caught along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and transported to the Murrieta facility while awaiting deportation proceedings. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Irma Castillo, outreach coordinator with United Farm Workers Foundation, left, gives Erica Montoya, 32, right, paperwork during an immigration workshop in Hanford, California, U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. President Barack Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in November as a response to Congress' unwillingness to update a policy that both parties agree is flawed. Recipients would enter the formal economy with work permits and Social Security numbers, creating a legal workforce for businesses, greater security for themselves and revenue for government coffers. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Juan Barbosa, 23, of Bakersfield, looks at a confirmation of petition acceptance for his application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) employment authorization renewal at the United Farm Workers Foundation offices in Bakersfield, California, U.S., on Thursday, March 19, 2015. President Barack Obama announced his DACA program in November as a response to Congress' unwillingness to update a policy that both parties agree is flawed. Recipients would enter the formal economy with work permits and Social Security numbers, creating a legal workforce for businesses, greater security for themselves and revenue for government coffers. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
EL MONTE, CALIFORNIA , DECEMBER 10, 2014: Letisia Huertado (left) helps Destiny Valle (middle) and Ashley Vargas (right) construct sentences in their first grade class at Parkview School, on December 10, 2014 in El Monte. State education officials are preparing to issue the first report documenting the number of students who have continued to struggle with substandard English for more than 7 years, even though most of them were born in the United States. But some schools have developed effective programs to prevent young children born to immigrant families from becoming so-called long-term English learners. (Photo by Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA OCTOBER 3, 2014 -- Josephine Lopez, 84, from Perris Ca, joins immigrant-rights supporters celebrating the passage of AB 60, which will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses starting in January 2015 on Friday October 3, 2014. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
GRANADA HILLS, CA - JANUARY 2, 2015: Immigrants without legal status line up to apply for California driver licenses at DMV offices January 2, 2015 in Granada Hills. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
GRANADA HILLS, CA - JANUARY 2, 2015: Immigrants without legal status line up to apply for California driver licenses at DMV offices January 2, 2015 in Granada Hills. (Photo by Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Children of poor migrant families receive backpacks filled with school supplies before the start of the new school year during a charity event at the Los Angeles Mission's 'skid row' headquarters on August 9, 2014. US conservatives recently commented on the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson's 'war on poverty' to dispute the effectiveness of existing policies, and urge a welfare state overhaul. Five decades and trillions of dollars after President Johnson waged his war on poverty they said a staggering 49 million Americans are still living below the poverty line AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
MURRIETA, CA - JULY 7: Immigrant rights activist Mary Estrada (R) speaks with anti-immigration activists during a protest outside of the U.S. Border Patrol Murrieta Station on July 7, 2014 in Murrieta, California. Immigration protesters have staged rallies in front of the station for about a week in response to a wave of undocumented immigrant children caught along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas and transported to the Murrieta facility while awaiting deportation proceedings. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA OCTOBER 3, 2014 -- Axel Paredes, 40, an immigrant (undocumented) worker who has been in the US for 10 years celebrates with supporters the passage of AB 60, which will allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses starting in January 2015 outside city hall Friday, October 3, 2014.. (Photo by Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Children hold banners and placards while listening to speakers at a rally outside the 9th Circuit federal court in Pasadena, California on July 16, 2015, where Immigrant rights organizations, labor, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from Arizona and Los Angeles gathered. After a multiple-year legal battle, the state of Arizona's embattled efforts to deny driver's licenses to immigrants who have been granted DACA under a federal program will face what could be yet another blow to Arizona when the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit hears oral arguments this Thursday in a lawsuit brought by civil rights groups challenging the discriminatory policy. AFP PHOTO/ FREDERIC J. BROWN (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA FEB. 17, 2015: Immigration reform supporters listen to speakers talk about expanded federal immigration programs that will allow millions of immigrants to stay in the country and receive work permits for three years at Los Angeles City Hall Monday, Feb. 17, 2015. Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo joined Rep. Judy Chu and others to talk about expanded federal immigration programs that will allow millions of immigrants to stay in the country and receive work permits for three years. One of the programs, which applies to people who arrived in the country as children under the age of 16, will be expanded on Wednesday. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
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Five of the prank signs were reported around the state, but Caltrans employees have found and taken down only two, spokesman Dinger said. One on I-15 near the Nevada border was removed on Monday, and another on I-40 near the Arizona border came down Tuesday. Caltrans was not able to locate at least three other signs reported near the Oregon and Arizona borders.

Caltrans did not know who was behind the signs, Dinger said, and would not be investigating the incident as it is not a law enforcement agency. 

Photos of the signs were circulated largely by conservative accounts on Twitter, with former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin tweeting about them and other apparent opponents of the sanctuary law appearing amused by the prank.

There are an estimated 2.3 million undocumented immigrants in California. Before the statewide law went into effect, several major cities there, including San Francisco, already had their own sanctuary policies. 

Critics of sanctuary laws, including anti-immigration hard-liners like Trump, argue that limiting local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration officials make cities more dangerous. Supporters say that sanctuary laws make communities safer by encouraging undocumented residents to trust and cooperate with local police.  

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.

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