What to Know
- 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 law prohibits employers from letting immigration agents enter worksites or view employee files without a subpoena or warrant
- Another CA law stops local governments from contracting with for-profit companies and ICE to hold immigrants
Gov. Jerry Brown accused Attorney General Jeff Sessions of lying in an attempt to appease President Donald Trump when he visited California Wednesday to announce that the Justice Department is suing over the state's immigration policies.
Brown fired back at Sessions less than an hour after the attorney general finished speaking to a group of law enforcement officers about the lawsuit -- the latest salvo in a feud between the Trump administration and California leaders.
Dozens of demonstrators gathered in Sacramento to protest Sessions' appearance. The protest Wednesday came a day after Sessions announced the Trump administration is suing the state over several laws that restrict government authorities and private businesses from cooperating with federal immigration agents.
Demonstrators blocked traffic outside a hotel where Sessions delivered his speech and chanted "stand up, fight back" and "no justice no peace."
Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, speaking at their joint news conference, denounced Sessions' speech and the lawsuit.
"Here in California, we respect the law and the Constitution," said Becerra. "We expect the federal government to do the same."
Brown began the news conference by saying that Sessions is acting "more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer."
"This is pure red meat for the base," Brown said. "It's not about law enforcement. It's not about justice, and it really demeans the high office.
"This is basically going to war against California, the engine of the American economy. It's not wise, and it's not right."
The lawsuit is the most aggressive move yet in the Trump administration's push to force so-called sanctuary cities and states to cooperate with immigration authorities. Brown is named in the lawsuit along with Becerra, who said the state is on firm legal footing.
"Our track record so far when it comes to any dispute with the federal government has been pretty good," Becerra said.
The U.S. 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."
Earlier Wednesday, Brown mimicked 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 Wednesday's speech, Sessions also had particularly strong words for Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who issued an unusual public warning last month that she was tipped off that an immigration operation was imminent, perhaps within 24 hours.
"How dare you?" he said of Schaaf at a California Peace Officers Association meeting in Sacramento. "How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?"
The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights issued a statement Wednesday, characterizing the Trump administration's approach to the immigration issue as "fear mongering."
"Attorney General Sessions and the Trump Administration are utilizing the tools of deception and fear mongering to advance a draconian, inhumane and broad anti-immigrant agenda," said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA's executive director.
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 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 has blamed sanctuary city policies for crime and gang violence.
Only the California State Sheriffs' Association actively opposed the so-called sanctuary law.
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.