The Trump administration 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.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to Sacramento Wednesday, one day after the suit was filed there, to speak to law enforcement officials. He accused the mayor of Oakland of endangering law enforcement agents' lives after warning the public last month of an upcoming immigration operation, and was subsequently rebuked by Gov. Jerry Brown, who accused him of lying.
The lawsuit is the latest volley in an escalating feud between the Trump administration and California. The state has defiantly refused to help federal agents detain and deport undocumented immigrants. Sessions said that makes cities more dangerous.
"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," Sessions said, straying from his prepared remarks.
More than a dozen attendees in a room of about 200 people gave the attorney general a standing ovation.
Of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, Sessions said, "How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?"
Brown contended that it was unprecedented for Sessions to "act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer." The Democratic governor also accused the attorney general of lying and trying to appease President Donald Trump.
"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," Brown told reporters.
Earlier, Brown had responded to the lawsuit on Twitter in a parody of President Donald Trump's own Twitter style:
"At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America. Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!"
Brown is named in the lawsuit along with Democratic Attorney General Xavier 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.
Dozens of undocumented immigrants were arrested across Northern California last month, according to federal officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Removal Operations.
The arrests sparked fear in immigrant neighborhoods and kept people at home for fear of being arrested, according to local business leaders. The arrests came amid a nationwide debate over whether local jurisdictions that call themselves “sanctuary cities,” like Oakland, must cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
About half of the individuals arrested had criminal convictions in addition to immigration violations, including convictions for assault/battery, crimes against children, weapons charges and DUI, according to ICE.
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.
The Justice Department is also reviewing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's decision to warn of the immigration sweep in advance, which ICE said allowed hundreds of immigrants to elude detention.
Both Schaaf and San Francisco Mayor Mark Farrell responded Tuesday to the news of Sessions's planned appearance in Sacramento.
“This is not the first time that the federal administration has rattled its saber. We have seen repeated attacks on our city and its values - from insulting tweets to hateful policy decisions - but San Francisco will not be intimidated," Farrell said. "Our priority is the safety and wellbeing of our residents and no attack will undermine the values of our City. San Francisco is and will remain a home for hardworking immigrants and I am committed to defending and supporting our longstanding sanctuary policies.”
Schaaf called Oakland a "city of immigrants."
"We will continue to exercise our legal right to exist as a sanctuary city," Schaaf said. "We will continue to inform all residents about their constitutional rights, and we will continue to support California’s sanctuary status."
“We will also distinguish between law abiding residents who work hard and contribute to our community from dangerous criminals," Schaaf added. “This administration has tried to portray all immigrants as villains. We know that is a racist lie, and we will shed light on that myth every day."
San Francisco Mayor Sam Liccardo also chimed in:
“As a former federal prosecutor, I know how to follow the law," he said. "I also know that this Administration’s radical shift toward indiscriminate enforcement of immigration law is making urban communities less safe. Police chiefs of major cities throughout the nation agree that we critically need to ensure that every resident – regardless of status – will not hesitate to call 911 in an emergency, to report a crime or share information with the police.”