SACRAMENTO (CBSLA/AP) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions told California, “We have a problem,” in a news conference Wednesday morning in Sacramento addressing the lawsuit against the state’s sanctuary state bill.
Sessions, speaking at the annual Law Enforcement Legislative Day Convention, said that the Justice Department sued California because state laws are preventing federal immigration agents from doing their jobs.
California leaders strongly deny that claim.
Sessions strongly criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for her recent unusual public warning that an operation by federal immigration officers was imminent. He claims 800 “wanted criminals” eluded arrests as a result.
“How dare you?” Sessions said of Schaaf. “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?”
Sessions says California’s laws are unconstitutional and a “plain violation of common sense.”
The Justice Department is suing the state of California, Governor Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra for interfering with federal immigration activities. The lawsuit asks the court to prevent California from implementing three state laws, Senate Bill 54, Assembly Bill 450 and Assembly Bill 103.
The lawsuit claims these state laws are preempted by federal law and violate the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
Addressing reporters later Wednesday, California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced Sessions’ statements, saying it was unprecedented for Sessions to “act more like Fox News than a law enforcement officer.”
“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.
L.A.-area politicians also criticized Sessions’ remarks Wednesday.
“All people deserve humane treatment, and they deserve due process under the laws and Constitution of the United States,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said at a Wednesday press conference. Becerra is a a former U.S. Congressman who represented the L.A.’s Downtown, Highland Park and Boyle Heights neighborhoods.
At L.A. City Hall, council members sounded off on Sessions’ lawsuit.
“Well, good luck,” said councilman Gil Cedillo. “They’ll fail miserably. Thank God that we have the U.S. Constitution,” Cedillo added.
Joe Buscaino called Sessions’ declaration Wednesday “appalling and outright full of lies.”
“We’re gonna do all we can, whether it’s in the state legislature or in Los Angeles, to defend our immigrant population,” said Jose Huizar.
City Attorney Mike Feuer said he believed Los Angeles, which declared itself a sanctuary city months ago, “is on solid legal legal footing.” He added that Sessions’ lawsuit was “just another effort by the attorney general to express his disdain for immigrants.”
As for law enforcement in the city, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck issued a statement saying, “We are in compliance with all laws. We do not believe this lawsuit will affect the LAPD in any of its operations.”
Similarly, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said the lawsuit “does not change our policies or practices. The department does not ask about the immigration status of anyone.”
Last October, Brown signed Senate Bill 54, the sanctuary state legislation that extends protections for immigrants living in the United States illegally. Following sharp dissent from law enforcement officials — including Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell — the bill was scaled back significantly.
The bill took effect Jan. 1. Under it, police are barred from asking people about their immigration status or participating in immigration enforcement activities. Jail officials are only allowed to transfer inmates to federal immigration authorities if they have been convicted of certain crimes.
Here are the other two laws in question:
Assembly Bill 450 prohibits private employers from voluntarily cooperating with federal immigration officials.
Assembly Bill 103 imposes a state-run inspection and review of the federal detention of undocumented immigrants held in facilities pursuant to federal contracts.
In December, a federal judge in Chicago ruled that Sessions cannot follow through with his threat to withhold public safety grant money to so-called sanctuary cities for refusing his order to impose tough immigration policies.
Sanctuary cities in the Southland include San Bernardino, Santa Ana and Malibu. In early August, Sessions moved to punish San Bernardino and three other so-called sanctuary cities, threatening to deny them federal crime-fighting resources if they don’t step up efforts to help detain and deport people living in the country illegally.
Oregon is the only other state that has declared itself a sanctuary, doing so in 1987.
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, the Los Angeles Democrat who wrote the sanctuary state bill, released the following statement Tuesday:
“We’re sick and tired of this federal government picking on California. We’re sick and tired of this federal government bullying California. We’re the sixth economy in the world. We’re America’s economic engine. When I say to the Trump Administration and Jeff Sessions, if you think you’re going to take on California, good luck and bring it on.”
Arthur Schaper with LA County for Trump says Senate Bill 54 goes against federal law.
“It’s about time the federal government – the Trump Administration – cracked down on the state of California,” said Schaper. “It’s a punch back to the lawlessness that’s rampant in the state of California. Not just in the Trump Administration but during the eight years of the Obama Administration that didn’t enforce immigration law.”
Last year, California enacted the sanctuary laws, which restricted when and how law enforcement can cooperate with federal immigration enforcement officers.
Jean Reisz is a professor at USC’s law school and runs its immigration clinic.
“I think it’s going to be a hard-fought case. I know the California legislature really made a lot of compromises to make sure that this law would stand up in court and that it won’t be found in violation of federal law,” said Reisz.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)