U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday wound up unintentionally clarifying why the federal government is suing the state of California during a speech delivered on Wednesday to members of the California Peace Officers Association.
Sessions said his office filed a lawsuit on Tuesday to invalidate three California laws he claimed restricted the federal government’s ability to enforce immigration laws. The lawsuit claims the state’s pro-immigrant laws “discriminate against the United States.”
But Sessions’ barely concealed rage that immigration authorities aren’t allowed to do whatever they want at all times—and the fiercely nativist rhetoric he used during the speech—gave his game away.
“We admit 1.1 million immigrants lawfully to permanent legal status—green card status—every year, the highest numbers in the world. Indeed, at this unprecedented rate we will soon have the largest percentage of non-native born in our nation’s history,” Sessions told his audience of law enforcement officers. Later, he echoed President Trump’s infamous comment that “Americans are dreamers too”:
It cannot be the policy of a great nation to up and reward those who unlawfully enter its country with legal status, Social Security, welfare, food stamps, and work permits. Meanwhile those who engage in this process lawfully and patiently and wait their turn are discriminated against at every turn.
Most Americans get this. They are working hard to make ends meet, follow the rules, and try to keep their loved ones safe.
They, our citizens, want our government to think about them for a change to consider their interests. They have dreams too. Frankly, this commonsense concept was a key factor in President Trump’s election. Elections have consequences.
Sessions also told his audience that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents were their “brothers and sisters.” The attorney general then claimed California laws did not allow federal agents to “do the job that Congress directed them to do.”
But a look at the lawsuit shows that this is not true.
The suit challenges three straightforward laws that the state passed in the last year. The most controversial provisions require federal immigration officials to obtain a warrant signed by a judge before local law enforcement agencies transfer people being released from local jails to ICE custody.
California state officials maintain the laws do not restrict federal law enforcement agents from doing their jobs. The law merely requires ICE agents to get a judge’s blessing before they obtain custody of whoever they want.
The lawsuit also seeks to invalidate Assembly Bill 450 (the Immigrant Worker Protection Act) which prohibits public and private employers from allowing ICE agents to enter non-public areas unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. And it challenges Assembly Bill 103, which created a state inspection system for immigration detention facilities. (This is only humane, considering California housed the deadliest detention center in the country last year.)
These may seem reasonable, but Sessions made his real problem clear in the speech, stressing that even minimal restrictions on immigration authorities were unacceptable to him. He said the laws “[create] an open border system,” and that “ICE agents are federal law enforcement officers carrying out federal law. California cannot forbid them or obstruct them in doing their jobs.”
Sessions may have also come to California as an act of personal retribution against California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Becerra’s office has filed 28 lawsuits against the federal government, ranging on issues that range from the environment to immigration to health care. The state has yet to lose a single lawsuit.
In a response to Sessions’ speech, Becerra said California state laws are fully constitutional. “Our state laws work in concert with federal laws,” he said in a news conference.