A. General J. Beauregard Sessions invades California
The Los Angeles Times has great coverage on US Attorney General Jeff Sessions' assault on the states' rights of California. Be sure to use the link to get at further coverage they offer from links in the article. It looks as though maybe the worst is over for the Times. That's good news. We really need that newspaper back!-- blj
Los Angeles Times
California leaders rebuke Sessions as 'going to war' over state immigration policy
Jazmine Ulloa And Liam Dillon
SACRAMENTO --He arrived a day after suing California over its laws to shield immigrants living in the state illegally
A long-simmering battle between the Trump administration and California over immigration boiled over Wednesday, with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions deriding the state's "irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies" and Gov. Jerry Brown accusing the federal government of launching "a reign of terror."
"This is basically going to war against the state of California," Brown declared.
As the Justice Department formally filed a legal challenge to state immigration laws, Sessions told a gathering of law enforcement officers in Sacramento that California was attempting to keep federal immigration officials from doing their jobs, and he charged Democrats with advancing the political agendas of "radical extremists."
Read Jeff Sessions' prepared remarks about California's 'sanctuary state' laws »
He took particular aim at Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who had warned immigrant communities about recent federal raids in the Bay Area, and at Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, for praising her actions.
"So here's my message to Mayor Schaaf: How dare you?" Sessions said of the Brown protege. "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."
The remarks drew protests and sharp rebukes from state leaders, underscoring huge rifts over the role of law enforcement in federal immigration policy.
President Trump has made restricting immigration a central focus of his agenda and has frequently criticized California for resistance to his calls to increase deportations. On Wednesday, the White House confirmed that Trump would make his first visit to California since becoming president next week, to assess prototypes for the border wall he wants built between California and Mexico and to attend a GOP fundraiser.
California Democratic leaders and the state's top law enforcement officer responded with war talk 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.
The governor called Sessions' actions a political stunt, aimed at distracting the public from guilty pleas made by Trump's advisors in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III'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."
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), author of one of the laws targeted by the legal challenge, accused Sessions of having ideology based on "white supremacy and white nationalism."
De León said he is directing former U.S. Atty. Gen. 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.
The three laws administration officials seek to challenge make it a crime for business owners to voluntarily help federal agents find and detain undocumented workers, prohibit local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when detainees are released from custody and create a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.
Administration officials allege the laws, passed by the Legislature last year and signed by Brown, blatantly obstruct federal immigration law and thus violate the Constitution's supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence over state enactments.
State Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra has pledged to defend the measures in court, saying they work in concert with federal laws. "Our teams work together to go after drug dealers, to combat gang violence, to take down sex-trafficking rings, and we have no intention of changing that," he said Wednesday.
In his speech to more than 100 police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officers, Sessions argued that the Trump administration did not reject immigration, but said the U.S. should not reward those who unlawfully enter the country with benefits, such as legal status, food stamps and work permits.
He said the federal government sued California to invalidate and immediately freeze what he called unjust laws.
"We are going to fight these irrational, unfair and unconstitutional policies that have been imposed on you and our federal officers," Sessions said as he finished his speech to the California Peace Officers Assn., and some officers stood in ovation. "You can be certain about this: We have your back, and you have our thanks."
As the group welcomed Sessions with applause, a statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups gathered outside to protest his arrival.
The lawsuit and Sessions' visit are the latest volley in an escalating battle between the Trump administration and Democratic leaders in California, where laws have been passed to extend healthcare, driver's licenses and education to some of the more than 2.3 million immigrants living in the state illegally.
Read the Justice Department's lawsuit against California's laws protecting immigrants »
The event is usually a time for law enforcement officers to mingle with lawmakers, lobby for legislation and receive guidance from leaders on law enforcement priorities across the state. But Sessions' appearance swept the attention away.
Police officers said the state's immigration laws had not impeded their jobs so far, but the constant battles between state and federal leaders were affecting their relationships with federal partners.
Fairfield Police Chief Randy Fenn said the lawsuit raised concerns about whether law enforcement agencies would be caught in the middle of a larger immigration battle.
"We are waiting to see how this shakes out," Fenn said.
Neil Gallucci, second vice president of the state peace officers group, said Sessions' opinion was important to understand as the federal lawsuit had the potential to change California laws.
"Atty. Gen. Sessions is the top law enforcement officer in the United States of America," Gallucci said. "It would be foolish for us not to listen to where we may be headed and to understand what all the issues are. That is what this forum is for."
Though the state government's foray into immigration issues has drawn criticism outside California in recent months, it has broad support within the state. A January poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California found 58% of likely voters wanted state and local immigration action. Among all adults, support rose to 65% of those surveyed.
Law enforcement officials have been
divided on the issue. The most contested of the statutes — the so-called sanctuary state law — limits state and local law enforcement agencies from using any resources to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents, unless they have violent or serious criminal convictions.
For many officers across the state, that won't change much of their daily work. Some police and sheriff's agencies already have developed similar restrictions on working with immigration agents, either through their own policies or under local "sanctuary city" rules.
The California Police Chiefs Assn. moved its official position from opposed to neutral after final changes to the bill, but the California State Sheriffs' Assn. remained opposed.
Outside Sessions' speech Wednesday, a few hundred people gathered to protest. Right before the speech began, protesters spilled out onto a major street, blocking traffic, and then marched around the building.
Maria Isabel Serrano, 46, from Imperial County, said the attorney general should focus on violent crimes, not immigration.
"This is the only place where we have a sanctuary," Serrano said in Spanish. "This lawsuit is uncalled for."
The protests are perhaps just a preview of what's to come. Trump will make his first trip to California on Tuesday, the White House announced. He will view border wall prototypes in San Diego and raise money at a high-dollar fundraiser in Beverly Hills.
Los Angeles Times
Most California sheriffs fiercely opposed the 'sanctuary state' law. Soon they'll have to implement it
Two years ago, as others in California were limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department welcomed them into its jail.
Sheriff Margaret Mims gave U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unrestricted access to databases and private rooms to interview inmates. She reorganized release times so agents could easily pick up people who had served their sentences.
The policy sparked outrage among immigrant rights groups, who called it a pipeline from incarceration to immigrant detention, one that they said disproportionately and unfairly affects Latinos.
“We are not anti-immigrant for working with ICE,” Mims said in defense of the approach. “We are anti-criminal activity.”
That belief is held by many of California’s 58 county sheriffs who will be on the front lines of implementing the landmark “sanctuary state” law, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed last month. It takes effect on Jan. 1.
Senate Bill 54 was introduced as a sharp rebuke from Democrats to President Trump’s call for more deportations. It is designed to limit the people that California law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. But its impact will largely rely on county sheriffs whose departments play a vital role in immigration enforcement — and most of whom, like Mims, were opposed to SB 54.
Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims is one of many county sheriffs opposed to the "sanctuary state" law that will soon be implemented. Gary Kazanjian / For The Times
As keepers of jails across the state, sheriffs will retain control over who has access to the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of people booked into their facilities every day. As elected officials, many represent conservative or rural areas, where voters might be more likely to oppose the new state law.
Sheriffs could also be subject to direct attacks from the Trump administration, which has threatened to slash federal funds from “sanctuary cities,” jurisdictions where local officials have passed ordinances and regulations limiting interactions between law enforcement and immigration agencies.
Trump built much of his campaign on anti-immigrant sentiment, showcasing the relatives of people killed by immigrants in the country illegally. His appointees have suggested illegal immigration is tied to increases in violent crime, though studies show immigrants generally commit fewer crimes than U.S. citizens.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has called SB 54 “unconscionable.” Thomas Homan, the president’s ICE director, has said his agency “would have no choice but to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at work sites," prompting some in California's congressional delegation to request a meeting with Homan over his “reprehensible” comments.
In an opposition letter penned in March, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens saw the conflict coming, saying SB 54 would put sheriffs like her in “an unenviable position.”
Top, a look inside a jail holding block at the Fresno County Jail. From left, Sheriff's deputy Alicia Perez books a prisoner at the Fresno County Jail. Sheriff's deputy Joshua Anderson prepares a prisoner for booking at the Fresno jail facility. (Gary Kazanjian / For The Times)
Though Trump has added new fuel to the debate, clashes between sheriffs and lawmakers over immigration enforcement have long existed in California, where previous legislative efforts to protect more than 2.3 million people living here illegally have sought to disentangle state and local law enforcement and federal immigration forces.
In 2014, the Trust Act prohibited law enforcement officials from holding immigrants past their release dates unless they have been convicted of one of roughly 800 crimes. The California Truth Act, which went into effect in January, requires officers to provide immigrant defendants notice of their rights prior to any ICE interviews.
The new ”sanctuary state” law was introduced to build on those laws. Officially dubbed the “California Values Act,” it will largely prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using personnel or funding to hold, question or share information about people with federal immigration agents unless they have been convicted of one or more offenses listed in the Trust Act.
Some sheriffs said the new law is unlikely to change the day-to-day work of deputies, who don’t question victims or witnesses about their immigration status while on patrol.
But unlike some city and campus police chiefs who threw their support behind SB 54, at least 40 of the 58 sheriffs in the state remained staunch opponents of the legislation through its passage. At least two — Jim McDonnell of Los Angeles County and Scott Jones of Sacramento County — drew protests for lobbying against it.
Now, they will be tasked with crafting new policies and training officers to limit their communication with ICE. Their agencies will also have to gather new statistics on the arrests made by task forces and on the people they transfer to immigration officials, reporting requirements under the law that are designed to provide insight into who is being swept up in the federal immigration dragnet.
Until now, counties have taken various positions when it comes to cooperation with ICE.
In San Francisco, for example, County Sheriff Vicki Hennessy filed a declaration in support of the city in its lawsuit against the Trump administration’s crackdown on “sanctuary city” policies. In accordance with the city’s laws, she wrote, the department maintains policies that limit notifying immigration officials on inmates’ release dates.
But in Orange County, Hutchens has a $7.27-million contract to incarcerate immigrant detainees convicted of crimes, as well as a $22-million annual lease to provide ICE with jail beds. Other sheriffs have granted federal immigration agents assistance behind the scenes. In L.A., McDonnell allowed them to set up an office with computers that provided information on released prisoners, according to a report released last month by an independent inspector.
In light of the new law, a statewide coalition of immigrant rights groups is already at work reaching out to sheriffs and drafting model policies of their own in hopes of creating parity among counties. Whether the new law can compel a cultural shift within departments will be up to sheriffs, advocates said.
“There is the letter of the law and specific things that the law states officers can or can’t do,” said Joseph Tomás Mckellar, co-director of PICO California, a faith-based community-organizing network. “But there is also the spirit of the law, which is, ‘Can we begin to look at immigrants differently?’ To see them as full human beings that can and do rehabilitate.”
A sheriff's deputy prepares a prisoner for booking at the Fresno jail facility. Gary Kazanjian / For The Times
In Fresno, where City Council leaders voted down a plan to provide legal services for immigrants and where former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accused of racial profiling of Latinos, recently made an appearance at a GOP fundraiser, deputies and ICE officials have a closer working relationship.
Here, Mims has gone from being a registered Democrat to a Republican and has publicly quarreled with Brown over what she calls the Democratic Party’s hostility toward law enforcement issues, including gun rights and recent ballot measures to revamp the criminal justice system.
She also has been locked in battles with immigration advocates over the jail access she allows ICE, feuds that precede the election of Trump.
In September 2014, an Oregon federal court ruling prompted hundreds of cities and counties nationwide to stop holding inmates for immigration officials past their release dates, which had been permitted under a 2008 program by the Obama administration. After she heard the decision, Mims said she walked over to ICE’s nearby office in downtown Fresno to discuss ways they could continue their collaboration.
The meeting resulted in temporary work space for immigration agents at her jail, which holds about 25,000 to 30,000 people annually, and a restructuring of inmate release times that she won’t have to change under the new “sanctuary state” law.
Mims said her department is once more looking for ways to increase its collaboration with ICE in the wake of new communication restrictions.
“If ICE can’t do their job in a local, safe, controlled environment, they are going to put together teams, and they are going to go out into our co
mmunities,” she said. “I don’t think people are going to like the unintended consequences.”
Times reporter Mina Corpuz contributed to this report.