Attorney General Jeff Sessions launched a strident defense Wednesday of the Trump administration’s legal challenge to California state laws that shield illegal immigrants from federal authorities, proclaiming that “immigration law is the province of the federal government.”
Sessions’ speech to local law enforcement authorities in Sacramento came just more than 12 hours after the Justice Department dramatically escalated its push against so-called “sanctuary” cities and states, asserting in a lawsuit that three California laws interfere with the federal government’s immigration enforcement authority.
“There is no nullification; there is no secession,” Sessions said. “Federal law is the supreme law of the land. A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law and creates an open borders system.
“Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.”
The attorney general took sharp aim at California’s Democratic political leadership, including Oakland Mayor Elizabeth Schaff, for actions he claimed have shielded 800 criminal immigrants from federal immigration officers.
“Here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: ‘How dare you!’” the attorney general said. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement officers to promote your radical open borders agenda.”
Several hundred protesters gathered outside during the speech, chanting “fight white supremacy” and “no Sessions, no KKK” as security and police tried to keep people from entering the hotel where the attorney general spoke.
The federal complaint alleges that each of the three state laws targeted in the challenge was created to impede existing immigration laws:
• AB 450 prohibits private employers from cooperating with federal immigration officials and requires that employers notify workers in advance of a potential work site enforcement inspection.
The Justice Department claims that this forces California employers to be caught between state and federal law. Business owners could be fined $2,000 to $10,000 for failing to comply.
• SB 54 prevents local law enforcement from providing information to federal authorities about the release date of undocumented immigrants who are in their custody and bans the transfer of those criminal immigrants to federal custody.
• AB 103 imposes a state-run inspection and review of the federal detention of immigrants held in facilities pursuant to federal contracts and includes a review of immigration processes and the circumstances in which immigrants were apprehended. The review applies only to facilities with civil immigration detainees.
The law seeks to regulate federal immigration detention, according to the complaint, which is not allowed under the Constitution.
“California is using every power it has — and some it doesn’t — to frustrate federal law enforcement,” Sessions said. “So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them.”
Under Trump, the department has brought a mix of political and financial pressures to bear against sanctuary cities, threatening to cut off federal law enforcement grants unless cities agree to identify and hold suspected immigration offenders.
In January, it threatened 23 so-called sanctuary jurisdictions, including New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, with subpoenas if they fail to provide documents to show whether local law enforcement officers are sharing information with federal immigration authorities.
The action prompted quick and harsh protests from local officials, including the president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who then boycotted a scheduled meeting at the White House.
Late Tuesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, slammed the Trump administration and cast Sessions’ legal maneuvering as a political stunt — going so far as to imitate Trump’s style on Twitter.
“At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America,” Brown said on Twitter. “Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”
On Wednesday, San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell, also a Democrat, characterized Sessions’ remarks as an “attack” on immigrant communities.
“We know that this is not about enforcing federal law,” Farrell said. “This is about attacking communities and residents who do not adhere to the government’s fear-based and divisive agenda. This administration believes in states’ rights when it is convenient for their cause. They support individual rights when it fits their political agenda.”