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.
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 makes cities more dangerous. Supporters say that sanctuary laws make communities safer by encouraging undocumented residents to trust and cooperate with local police.