SACRAMENTO (CBS SF & AP) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions continued the Trump administration attack on California’s sanctuary policies Wednesday and also voiced harsh criticism for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who issued a warning about ICE raids targeting undocumented immigrants in her city.
Appearing before an annual conference organized by California Peace Officers’ Association, Sessions said ICE agents “are not backing down, they are not going to be deterred and not going to stop enforcing the law in Alabama or in California either.”
“In California, we have a problem,” the attorney general said. “A series of actions and events has occurred here that directly and adversely impact the work of our federal officers.”
Sessions then ripped into Schaaf.
“The mayor of Oakland has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE,” he said. “Her actions support those who flaunt the law and boldly validates illegality. There is no other way to interpret those remarks. To make matters worse, the elected Lt. Gov. of the state (Gavin Newsom) praised her for doing so.”
“This is an embarrassment to the proud state of California.”
Sessions remarks came less than a day after his office filed a lawsuit against the state.
In the lawsuit, the Justice Department is challenging three California laws that, among other things, bar police from asking people about their citizenship status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities. The suit filed in federal court in Sacramento says the laws are unconstitutional and have kept federal agents from doing their jobs.
“The Department of Justice and the Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you,” Sessions said in prepared remarks. “I believe that we are going to win.”
California officials remained defiant, with Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown mimicking President Trump on Twitter as he criticized Sessions for coming to Sacramento “to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”
During a news conference Wednesday morning, Brown continued the attack. “Look, we know the Trump administration is full of liars,” the governor said, saying Sessions was acting “more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer.”
The governor also predicted that the lawsuit is “going to last a lot longer than the Trump administration.”
Brown is named in the lawsuit along with Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who said the state is on firm legal footing.
“Here in California, we respect the law and the Constitution. We expect the federal government to do the same,” Becerra said at the same news conference.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an escalating feud between the Trump administration and California, which has resisted the president on issues from taxes to marijuana policy and defiantly refuses to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will increase its presence in California, and Sessions wants to cut off funding to jurisdictions that won’t cooperate.
“I say: Bring it on,” said California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who wrote the so-called sanctuary state bill. Democratic Assembly Speaker Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon was among those suggesting that Sessions shouldn’t come at all.
The lawsuit was filed as the Justice Department also reviews Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to warn of an immigration sweep in advance, which ICE said allowed hundreds of immigrants to elude detention. Schaaf said Tuesday the city would “continue to inform all residents about their constitutional rights.”
The California laws were passed in response to Trump’s promises to sharply ramp up the deportation of people living in the U.S. illegally.
One prohibits employers from letting immigration agents enter worksites or view employee files without a subpoena or warrant, an effort to prevent workplace raids. Another stops local governments from contracting with for-profit companies and ICE to hold immigrants. Justice Department officials said that violates the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which renders invalid state laws that conflict with federal ones.
The Supreme Court reinforced the federal government’s primacy in enforcing immigration law when it blocked much of Arizona’s tough 2010 immigration law on similar grounds. The high court found several key provisions undermined federal immigration law, though it upheld a provision requiring officers, while enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people suspected of being in the country illegally.
In this case, California “has chosen to purposefully contradict the will and responsibility of Congress to protect our homeland,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement.
Sessions, who has blamed sanctuary city policies for crime and gang violence, spoke Wednesday to groups representing police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, narcotics investigators and the California Highway Patrol. Only the California State Sheriffs’ Association actively opposed the so-called sanctuary law.
Protesters from labor unions, Democratic Party and immigrant rights organizations, along with some state and local elected officials, rallied outside the hotel where Sessions spoke.
Becerra, who is up for election in November, said sanctuary policies increase public safety by promoting trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while allowing police resources to be used to fight other crimes.
“We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation,” he said.
© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.