sacremento protest immigration
© Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group
Groups from across the Bay Area gather outside the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel to protest the appearance of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions at a conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, March 7, 2018.
Amid escalating tensions with Washington over immigration raids, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is traveling to Sacramento to drop a bombshell: The federal government is suing California over its new immigration laws.

The United States is seeking to block three state laws - including its so-called "sanctuary state" policy relating to local law enforcement - that, the lawsuit says, "reflect a deliberate effort by California to obstruct the United States' enforcement of federal immigration law."

When news of the federal lawsuit broke late Tuesday, Gov, Jerry Brown quickly issued a statement decrying the move, as well as Sessions' trip to California.

"At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America," Brown wrote. "Jeff, these political stunts may be the norm in Washington, but they don't work here. SAD!!!"

Earlier Tuesday, without providing further details, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the nation's top cop would speak about "sanctuary" jurisdictions at an annual conference organized by California Peace Officers' Association.

The event is an opportunity for law enforcement to learn about new laws - including the three the United States is trying to block:
  • Senate Bill 54, which sets limits on cooperation between California police and federal immigration agents in immigration enforcement;
  • Assembly Bill 450, carried in anticipation of workplace raids, which requires employers to ask for proper court documents before allowing immigration agents access to the workplace or to employee information;
  • Provisions in Assembly Bill 103, a budget trailer bill, that require the California Attorney General to conduct reviews of public and privately run immigration detention centers that contract with ICE.
California was prepared for this action by the federal government, said the state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, during a hastily called conference call Tuesday evening.

"We've seen this B-rated movie before, so I'm not totally surprised," Becerra told reporters. "The arguments that the administration is making ... demonstrate there's nothing really new there that we aren't already familiar with."

Becerra argued that California was simply exercising its rights as a state under the U.S. Constitution. "We're doing nothing to intrude in the work of the federal government to do immigration enforcement," he said. "We recognize and respect that it's the federal government that has jurisdiction over immigration enforcement, and we hope that federal government would recognize that under the constitution and the 10th Amendment that the state of California and the 50 states have the power to decide how to do public safety."

Sessions' appearance at California's capital comes less than two weeks after Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warned residents of an imminent raid by federal immigration agents, a move harshly criticized by ICE. The White House and ICE Director Thomas Homan also announced that the DOJ would launch a "review" of the mayor's actions. The Department of Justice declined to comment when asked this week about whether a probe was underway.

Carol Leveroni, executive director of the California Peace Officers' Association, said her organization learned through various law enforcement liaisons last week that Sessions planned to come to California to make a sanctuary jurisdiction speech.

"We extended an invitation to speak at our event," Leveroni said in a phone interview Tuesday. She said she did not have specifics about his announcement.

Leveroni's law enforcement advocacy organization has publicly opposed Senate Bill 54, known as the "sanctuary state" bill that Brown signed into law last year. Sessions has called it "unconscionable."

The centerpiece of California's resistance to President Donald Trump's promised immigration crackdown, the law limits who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of federal immigration officials, and it bars officers from inquiring about a person's immigration status. But last-minute amendments that Brown negotiated last fall changed the legislation substantially.

The law largely exempts state prisons. It allows ICE agents to interview immigrants at county jails, though not to hold permanent office space there. And it does not protect undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of one of 800 felonies within the past 15 years or who are suspected of serious crimes punishable with prison time for which a judge has found probable cause.

The last-minute changes neutralized the opposition of the California Police Chiefs Association, which is also involved in this week's event.

In a statement last year the association's president, Gardena Police Chief Ed Madrano, said the compromise "addresses the significant public safety concerns we raised during this debate, and it reaffirms what we have held since the beginning, which is that California law enforcement should not be used to assist in mass deportations."

But other groups, including the sheriffs' association, remained opposed to the legislation. It was carried by state Senate leader Kevin de León, a candidate for U.S. Senate, who has led the anti-Trump resistance in the Legislature.

"Despite how (De León) has presented the issue, the law enforcement profession, which CPOA represents, cannot and does not engage in immigration enforcement. We do, however, have a sworn duty to protect our communities from the release of potentially dangerous criminals, wherever they may come from," said current president of CPOA, Beverly Hills Police Department Assistant Chief Marc Coopwood in a September statement. "Any attempt to restrict our ability to do that is not good policy."

Meanwhile, late Tuesday, Oakland Mayor Schaaf released a statement maintaining her stance against the ICE raids.

"Oakland is a city of immigrants. We will continue to exercise our legal right to exist as a sanctuary city. We will continue to inform all residents about their Constitutional rights, and we will continue to support California's sanctuary status," she said. "We will also distinguish between law abiding residents who work hard and contribute to our community from dangerous criminals.

"This administration has tried to portray all immigrants as villains. We know that is a racist lie, and we will shed light on that myth every day," she said. "This administration also wants residents to cower and stay silent. In Oakland, we will stand up and speak out."

Sessions is expected to speak at 8:05 a.m. at a downtown Sacramento hotel.

The event will be streamed to Facebook live through the California Peace Officers' Association page at CalPOA/.