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California leaders rebuke Sessions as 'going to war' over state immigration policy

Jazmine Ulloa and Liam Dillon, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A day after he sued California over its laws to shield immigrants living in the state illegally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrived in Sacramento, drawing protests and sharp rebukes from state leaders for accusing the state of impeding federal immigration officials from doing their jobs.

Sessions, speaking at an annual law enforcement lobby day held by the California Peace Officers' Association, underscored recent upticks in violent crime and charged Democrats with advancing the political agendas of "radical extremists." Using sharp rhetoric, he criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning immigrant communities about recent Bay Area raids, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom for praising her actions.

"So here's my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you?" he said. "Contrary to what you may hear from open-borders radicals, we are not asking California, Oakland or anyone else to actively, effectively enforce immigration laws."

California Democratic leaders and the state's top law enforcement officer responded with warring rhetoric of their own, describing Sessions' actions as unprecedented. In fiery tweets, speeches and at a news conference at the Capitol, the Democrats said the Justice Department lawsuit is based on lies and challenges California's sovereignty.

"This is basically going to war against the state of California," said Gov. Jerry Brown.

The governor called Sessions' actions a political stunt, aimed at distracting the public from guilty pleas made by President Donald Trump's advisers in special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

"Let's face it, the Trump White House is under siege," Brown said. "Obviously, the attorney general has found it hard just to be a normal attorney general. He's been caught up in the whirlwind of Trumpism ... (and is) initiating a reign of terror."

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat and author of one of the laws targeted by the legal challenge, accused Sessions of having ideology based on "white supremacy and white nationalism."

The former Senate leader said he is directing former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., under contract to provide legal advice to the state Senate, to help formulate a response to submit in court. On a conference call with reporters, Holder said legal precedent makes clear that the federal government cannot insist that a state use its resources to enforce federal immigration law.

"From my perspective, the Trump administration's lawsuit is really a political and unconstitutional attack on the state of California's well-established rights under our system of government," Holder said.


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