Sessions blasts California after filing U.S. immigration suit
Sharon Bernstein, SACRAMENTO (Reuters): Attorney General Jeff Sessions, intensifying the Trump administration’s confrontation with the most populous U.S. state, accused California on Wednesday of obstructing federal immigration enforcement efforts and vowed to stop the state’s defiance.
Sessions made the remarks to a law enforcement group a day after Republican President Donald Trump’s Justice Department sued Democratic-governed California over so-called sanctuary policies that try to protect illegal immigrants against deportation.
“California absolutely, it appears to me, is using every power it has – powers it doesn’t have – to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them,” Sessions, the top U.S law enforcement officer, said in his speech.
“In recent years, the California legislature has enacted a number of laws designed to intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers, to intentionally use every power the legislature has to undermine the duly-established immigration law of America,” Sessions added.
After Sessions made his comments to a California Peace Officers Association conference in Sacramento, Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, named as a defendant in the lawsuit, fired back, calling the attorney general’s trip to California a political stunt and his description of California’s laws a lie.
“Like so many in the Trump administration, this attorney general has no regard for the truth,” Brown told reporters. “It’s not about protecting our state. It’s about dividing America.”
Sessions said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents carry out federal law and that “California cannot forbid them or obstruct them in doing their jobs.”
The lawsuit, filed late on Tuesday in federal court in Sacramento, takes aim at three state laws passed last year that the Justice Department contends violates the U.S. Constitution and the supremacy of federal law over state law.
Trump has made fighting illegal immigration and cracking down on illegal immigrants already in the United States a signature issue, first as a candidate and now as president. Part of that effort involves a Justice Department crackdown on primarily Democratic-governed cities and states that Sessions calls “sanctuaries” that protect illegal immigrants from deportation.
“Immigration law is the province of the federal government,” Sessions said.
“I understand that we have a wide variety of political opinions out there on immigration, but the law is in the books and its purposes are clear and just,” Sessions added. “There is no nullification. There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land.”
‘MASS DEPORTATION AGENDA’
Other leading California Democrats also blasted the Trump administration.
“The president has now desperately decided to brazenly abuse the legal system to push his mass deportation agenda,” Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said in a statement.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein said the administration is simply looking to score points with Trump’s political supporters. “ICE should not be targeting parents who have lived in this country for decades, arresting them as they take their children to school,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Sessions singled out Democratic Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, accusing her of actively seeking to help illegal immigrants avoid ICE.
Last month, Schaaf issued a statement alerting local residents that ICE was preparing to conduct an operation in the area, saying it was her moral obligation. A few days later, ICE announced the arrest of more than 150 people for immigration violations in the San Francisco-Oakland area, saying about half had additional criminal convictions.
ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan has said Oakland’s sanctuary policies shield “dangerous criminal aliens” and Schaaf’s actions increased risks for federal officers. The White House has called Schaaf’s actions “outrageous” and said the Justice Department was reviewing the matter.
“Here’s my message for Mayor Schaaf: How dare you. How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement officers to promote your radical open-borders agenda,” Sessions said on Wednesday.
Sessions also called Democratic California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom an embarrassment for supporting the mayor’s actions.
Governor Brown in October signed into law a bill that prevents police from inquiring about immigration status and curtails law enforcement cooperation with immigration officers.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington and Dan Levine in San Francisco; Writing by Ben Klayman; Editing by Will Dunham)
(Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks to the National Association of Attorneys General 2018 Winter Meeting in Washington, U.S., February 27, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)