Attorney General Jeff Sessions House spoke in California Wednesday condemning state sanctuary policies. (Jim LoScalzo/CNP/Zuma Press/TNS)

SF leaders stand up for sanctuary policies after Sessions speech

San Francisco’s leaders rallied behind protections for undocumented immigrants Wednesday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions blasted California over sanctuary policies.

Sessions delivered a speech Wednesday in Sacramento condemning state policies he says violate federal law and impedes federal immigration enforcement — one day after the U.S. Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging three state sanctuary laws.

Speaking at a California Peace Officers Association conference, Sessions said that California “is using every power it has — and some it doesn’t — to frustrate federal law enforcement” when it comes to immigration laws. “So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them,” he said.

The federal lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Sacramento late Tuesday, is just the latest legal tussle between California and the federal government over sanctuary city policies. Supporters of sanctuary policies argue they keep communities safer by creating a sense of security in immigrant communities, allowing them to seek city services and report crimes without fear of deportation.

Mayor Mark Farrell called Sessions’ speech a “stunt.”

“In response to this stunt, I want my message to be clear to Attorney General Sessions: your threats will not change who we are. They will not deter our mission. They will not shake our beliefs,” Farrell said in a statement.

State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said in a statement that “I have total confidence that Attorney General [Xavier] Becerra will protect California’s decision not to become an arm of Donald Trump’s federal deportation machine.”

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has a pending lawsuit filed against Sessions and the Trump administration last year seeking to protect San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, which limits the cooperation and communication between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied Tuesday.

“Overreach is a hallmark of the Trump administration,” Herrera said in a statement Tuesday. “The Trump administration is trying to impose its will on decisions that the Constitution says local communities get to make. This is the latest attempt by this administration to try to score cheap political points by vilifying undocumented immigrants as criminals, when in fact the vast majority are hardworking people trying to make a better life for their families.”

The three state laws being challenged by the Justice Department include Assembly Bill 450, the “Immigrant Worker Protection Act,” which prohibits employers from letting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on to a work site without a warrant.

Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco, who introduced AB 450, joined a protest of Sessions in Sacramento Wednesday where he called President Donald Trump “our bully in chief.”

Chiu said that Trump has “declared war on our immigrant communities” and he vowed that “we will not aid and abet this out of control deportation machine.” He said his law is backed by the US Constitution’s Fourth Amendment that protects against unreasonable searches and seizures and “these protections apply to all of us.”

Earlier in a statement, Chiu said, “As a former prosecutor, I know sanctuary policies make us safer. When immigrants feel comfortable reporting crimes to police and testifying as witnesses in court, our communities are safer.”

Assembly Bill 103 authorizes state officials to inspect facilities holding detained immigrants. And Senate Bill 54, the “California Values Act,” restricts law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration officials for those in custody by alerting them when someone is being released or handing them over to ICE.

“Rather than allow ICE officers to do their jobs at the jailhouse, they force these officers to conduct far more dangerous arrests elsewhere—where violent criminals may reside and where children can be caught in the crossfire,” Sessions said in his speech. He also blasted SB 54 last year when Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law.

Gov. Jerry Brown and Becerra defended the constitutionality of the state’s laws on Wednesday, with Brown accusing the Trump administration of “basically going to war against the state of California.”

Sessions also used his speech to blast Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf for warning of last week’s federal immigration raids in Northern California. He said that according to Tom Homan, Acting Director of ICE, 800 people escaped arrest due to the warning.

Sessions said Schaaf’s “actions support those who flout our laws and boldly validate the illegality.”

Schaaf defended the warning in a statement last week, saying “I believe it is my duty and moral obligation as mayor to give those families fair warning when that threat appears imminent.”

In a press conference Wednesday, she responded to Sessions’s speech.

“How dare you vilify members of our community by trying to frighten the American public into thinking that all undocumented immigrants are dangerous criminals,” Schaaf said. “How dare you distort the reality about declining violent crime in a diverse sanctuary city like Oakland, California.”

Sessions also called Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, a candidate for governor and former San Francisco Mayor, “an embarrassment” for defending Schaaf.

Newsom shot back at Sessions on Twitter, writing: “A man whose legacy is targeting immigrants, re-waging the failed War on Drugs, sucking-up to private prison profiteers and apologizing for white supremacists… I take that as a HUGE compliment.”

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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