Trump Administration Sues California Over Sanctuary Policies as AG Sessions Heads to Sacramento

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a press conference at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, 2018. (Toya Sarno Jordan/Getty Images)

Updated 5:38 a.m. Wednesday:
In an escalation of the Trump administration's battle with California, the federal government announced Tuesday night it was suing the state over its sanctuary policies that limit cooperation with federal immigration agents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will be in Sacramento Wednesday to make what the Department of Justice is calling a "major sanctuary jurisdiction announcement," presumably to expound on the lawsuit and other steps the administration will be taking in response to California's policies.

According to prepared remarks obtained by the New York Times, Sessions plans to say “the Department of Justice and the Trump administration are going to fight these unjust, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you.” Regarding the lawsuit against California, Sessions said “I believe that we are going to win.”

In a phone call with reporters Tuesday night, Attorney General Xavier Becerra reacted to the lawsuit, saying "they better have good evidence because we’re going to fight back."

Attorney General Becerra noted that his office and local law enforcement cooperate with the federal government "all the time" on issues such as human trafficking and drugs. But "we’re in the business of public safety, not deportation," he added.

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In a statement, Gov. Jerry Brown criticized Sessions' visit. “At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America," Brown said. "Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don’t work here. SAD!!!”

Brown and Becerra will hold a press conference Wednesday morning at the state Capitol to respond more fully.

Sessions' appearance comes a week after the federal government was highly critical of an announcement by Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warning Bay Area residents of an imminent raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. In response, ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan said that “illegal aliens ... were able to elude us, thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.” The Justice Department also said it was exploring whether the mayor's action constituted obstruction of justice.

Sessions was a last-minute addition to the schedule at the annual Legislative Day of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), a law enforcement group that opposed SB 54, the bill that became known as "the sanctuary state" law.

CPOA Executive Director Carol Leveroni said originally the group had invited U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott to speak, but when they learned that Sessions was planning to be in Sacramento, they invited him instead.

"They (DOJ) considered it, and said he would," Leveroni told KQED. Asked what her group is hoping to hear from Sessions, she said "ultimately what we're hoping for is that both the state and the federal agencies decide to do whatever is necessary to provide clarity," meaning, she added, "which (immigration enforcement) mandates are the ones to be complied with."

Leveroni said CPOA is concerned that state and local sanctuary policies are confusing to local police and sheriffs.

"It's primarily due to the restrictive communication mandates and wanting clarification to make sure our officers can keep their communities safe without being upside down between state and federal laws," Leveroni said.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has sued the Trump administration over issues including travel bans, sanctuary city policies and Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals (DACA), was already scheduled to address the CPOA event. Becerra's office said he will be speaking a couple of hours after Sessions, who is scheduled to talk around 8 a.m. Wednesday.

In another legal skirmish between the state and federal governments, a federal judge in San Francisco Monday denied a request by Becerra to force the federal government to pay California $1 million for a federal criminal justice grant the Trump administration is trying to deny because of the state's sanctuary policies.

In response to the visit by Sessions, immigrant rights groups are organizing what they say will be "peaceful protests" outside the downtown Sacramento hotel where he will speak Wednesday morning.

Jon Rodney with the California Immigrant Policy Center declined to comment on Sessions' appearance, other than to say it was part of the Trump administration's "psychological intimidation" of immigrants. He cited recent raids by ICE that led to hundreds of arrests in Northern California recently.