Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 March 2018

Trump administration escalates California immigration feud

Jeff Sessions is suing the state over its so-called sanctuary state law, dramatically escalating a war with the liberal powerhouse

Graduate student Steven Lynn holds up a sign during a protest against attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was speaking at the California Peace Officer Association meeting. Jonathan Cooper / AP
Graduate student Steven Lynn holds up a sign during a protest against attorney general Jeff Sessions, who was speaking at the California Peace Officer Association meeting. Jonathan Cooper / AP

US attorney general Jeff Sessions brought the administration’s feud with California to the doorstep of the state Capitol on Wednesday, suing over its so-called sanctuary state law and dramatically escalating a war with the liberal powerhouse in a sharp exchange of words with Democrat governor Jerry Brown.

Mr Sessions was defiant as he spoke to local law enforcement officials about the lawsuit, citing a series of California laws that he says are unconstitutional and violate common sense.

“I can’t sit by idly while the lawful authority of federal officers are being blocked by legislative acts and politicians,” he said, straying from his prepared remarks.

Mr Brown did not hold back in his response, calling the attorney general a liar and saying it was unprecedented for the attorney general to “act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer.” He accused Mr Sessions of “going to war” with California to appease President Donald Trump.

“What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true and I call upon him to apologise to the people of California for bringing the mendacity of Washington to California,” the governor told reporters.

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in an escalating feud between the Trump administration and California, which has resisted the president on issues from marijuana policy to climate change and refuses to help federal agents detain and deport immigrants. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will increase its presence in California, and Mr Sessions wants to cut off funding to jurisdictions that will not cooperate.

The governor and state attorney general Javier Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration numerous times, held a news conference just blocks from where Mr Sessions spoke at a hotel, but they never interacted.

Mr Sessions also used his speech to sharply criticise Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf for warning the public about an unannounced raid by federal deportation officers recently in California. He said it allowed hundreds of “wanted criminals” to avoid arrest.

“How dare you?”, Mr Sessions said of the mayor 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?”

Ms Schaaf later echoed the refrain to slam Mr Sessions for tearing apart families and distorting the reality of declining violent crime in a “sanctuary city” like Oakland.

“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.

Mr Sessions received a polite if not warm reception from law enforcement officials, even when he told them his goal was to make their jobs safer. They applauded politely as he was introduced and after his speech, and more than a dozen gave a standing ovation at the end in a room of about 200 officials.

But many sat expressionless, some listening with arms crossed or chins on their folded hands, and his 25-minute speech was never interrupted by applause or protest.

Outside, dozens of demonstrators chanted “stand up, fight back” and “no justice, no peace” and some blocked traffic on a major thoroughfare. There was a heavy police presence but no arrests.

“This is a reminder that California does not see his federal policies,” said Steven Lynn, 33, a Sacramento graduate student. “We are a state of immigrants.”

Mr Brown speculated that Sessions’ dig on California may be an attempt to ease an openly rocky relationship with the president, saying, “Maybe he’s trying to keep his job because the president is not too happy with him.”

Mr Trump is set to visit California next week for the first time since his election to see models of his proposed wall along the Mexican border.