California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions for speaking out about the state’s sanctuary laws that thwart the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration law. On Wednesday, shortly after Sessions told California law enforcement officials that California is now akin to slave-states that historically sought to nullify federal law, Brown said, “What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true and I call upon him to apologize to the people of California for bringing the mendacity of Washington to California.”
Sessions spoke to a number of groups that represented the California Highway Patrol, sheriffs, narcotics investigators, and police chiefs. Only the California State Sheriffs’ Association actively opposed California’s sanctuary law.
Sessions said that California state laws prevent the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency from making arrests of persons due for deportation. He also targeted specific elected officials in his speech. Referring to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Sessions said, “How dare you?” in reference to her unusual public warning of last month about federal immigration enforcement operations. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?,” Sessions asked.
The Justice Department filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday in Sacramento to challenge the constitutionality of three California laws that bar law enforcement officers from asking people about their citizenship or immigration status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities. Businesses are also prohibited from cooperating with federal authorities in immigration enforcement. In a departure from his prepared remarks, Sessions said, “It wasn’t something I chose to do, but I can’t sit by idly while the lawful authority of federal officers are being blocked by legislative acts and politicians.”
California has defied the federal government and President Donald Trump on issues ranging from immigration enforcement to taxes and marijuana. Sessions wants to cut federal funding to law enforcement jurisdictions that fail to cooperate, while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will increase its presence in California.
Some observers point out that it was during the Obama administration that precedent was set to bolster the Trump administration’s claim of constitutional supremacy for the federal government over immigration matters, thus invalidating state laws that conflict with federal ones. In 2010, the Supreme Court reinforced the concept of federal supremacy in the enforcement of immigration law when it blocked an immigration law in Arizona on similar grounds. Arizona Republicans passed the law after concluding that the Obama administration was derelict in the enforcement of immigration law. The Supreme Court ruled that portions of the Arizona state law undermined federal immigration law, while the court upheld a provision in the law that requires officers, while enforcing other laws, to ask about the immigration status of anyone suspected of being present in the United States illegally.
The Trump administration filed the lawsuit while it is also reviewing Mayor Schaaf’s decision to warn the public of upcoming immigration enforcement, which the federal government says allowed hundreds of illegal immigrants to escape. On Tuesday, Schaaf said that Oakland will “continue to inform all residents about their constitutional rights.” She has also said that she is willing to go to jail over her policy. “How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into believing that all undocumented residents are dangerous criminals?” she told reporters on Wednesday after Sessions spoke.
Sessions has long blamed sanctuary policies for increased crime and gang violence.
Protesters blocked traffic and chanted “Stand up, fight back” and “No justice, no peace,” outside the venue where Sessions spoke.