SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Attorney General Jeff Sessions specifically took on Oakland on Wednesday, hours after the Trump administration sued to block California's sanctuary state laws that extend protections to people living in the U.S. illegally - and that prompted the mayor of Oakland to fire back just as hard.
"So, here's my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you. How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda," Sessions told the California Peace Officers Association in Sacramento. He was speaking of Schaaf's decision to warn her city of the pending ICE operation beginning on Feb. 25, advising immigrants of their legal rights if immigration agents should come knocking at their door.
At a news conference in Oakland, about four hours later, Schaaf fired back: "How dare you distort the reality about declining violent crimes in a diverse sanctuary city like Oakland, California to advance your racist agenda."
She didn't stop: "How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into thinking that all undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals?" Oakland's agenda is thriving, she said, and "Trump's agenda is bigotry."
Former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, an Obama-era appointee, has agreed to help Schaaf and the City of Oakland pro bono, if any matters should arise from her ICE statements.
Sessions spoke hours after the Trump administration filed a sanctuary state lawsuit against California.
The Justice Department argued a trio of state laws that, among other things, bar police from asking people about their citizenship status or participating in federal immigration enforcement activities are unconstitutional and have kept federal agents from doing their jobs. One of California's laws 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.
However, sanctuary states and cities still do share information on criminals or suspects if they have been convicted of serious crimes.
Gov. Jerry Brown is a defendant in the suit, along with the state of California,and Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
"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 said.
Becerra, who is up for election in November, said sanctuary policies increase public safety by promoting trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while allowing police resources to be used to fight other crimes.
"We're in the business of public safety, not deportation," Becerra said.
The state laws being challenged were a response to President Donald Trump's hawkish immigration policies and widespread fear in immigrant communities following a campaign in which he promised to sharply ramp up the deportation of people living in the U.S. illegally. The decision to sue California shows Sessions and Trump remain aligned on this priority, even as their relationship has recently deteriorated, with Trump attacking his attorney general and Sessions pushing back.
Sessions has blamed sanctuary city policies for crime and gang violence and announced in July that cities and states could only receive certain grants if they cooperate with immigration agents. California is suing to force the administration to release one such grant. The state wants a judge to certify that its laws are in compliance with federal immigration law.
The California Peace Officers' Association and groups representing police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys, narcotics investigators and the California Highway Patrol have often been split on sanctuary policies. None of the groups favored the state law restricting cooperation with immigration officials, but only the California State Sheriffs' Association was actively opposed and some individual officials voiced support.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Cooper and Kathleen Ronayne in Sacramento contributed to this report. Thompson reported from Sacramento.