Attorney General Jeff Sessions is out for bear. California Bear. Many believe the AG’s lawsuit over sanctuary cities in the state is one more politically-motivated attempt to prolong his life in office.
Sen. Kamala Harris responded to the lawsuit by saying, “The attorney general is playing politics with an important issue and has put a target on California’s back.”
The senator is not entirely correct. While politics does come into play, AG Sessions has a philosophy. He has an ideology. He has long been anti-immigrant, especially when it comes to those whose color does not match his own. AG Sessions’ lawsuit is just the latest evidence of his perspective on immigration.
Unlike the attorney general, the president has no philosophy, no ideology, and he’s decidedly anti-immigrant when it suits his needs and when the immigrants in question are brown. Donald J. Trump had no problem employing undocumented workers on his construction sites in the early 1980s. Perhaps because they were white workers from former Soviet Bloc countries.
Sessions is different. Despite lying to his former colleagues in Congress about his meetings with Russian diplomats and oligarchs, AG Sessions believes in the rule of law and, in the case of the investigation into Russian meddling, demonstrated some degree of propriety when he recused himself from directly overseeing it.
Attorney General Sessions believes that what Gov. Jerry Brown, the State Legislature, State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and many other government officials throughout the country are doing is in violation of federal laws that supersede those passed at the state and local level. He believes this, both as the nation’s top law enforcement official and he believes this ideologically.
Frankly, the attorney general is doing his job, just as state AG Becerra, in defending California’s sanctuary law, believes he is doing his. It will be up to a Federal District Court (and, likely, Federal Appellate Courts and the Supreme Court itself) to determine which party will prevail.
This lawsuit is not, however, solely about the law. We cannot ignore the fact that California’s demographics are a factor in the filing, and that exerting political muscle is also part of a much broader message. While six states, the District of Columbia, and over 170 cities and counties nationwide have passed sanctuary laws, AG Sessions has chosen to launch his first salvo against California. The state is the largest, most prominent choice.
California has the largest undocumented immigrant population in the country. Most importantly, it is a solidly blue state, with the governor’s office and both houses of the state legislature long in control of the Democrats. There is no risk for the Trump administration to target California first.
Republicans, as a rule, and even more so, Donald J. Trump want to punish those living here, Republican constituents (and there are quite a number of them) be damned. In the administration’s war on immigration, fellow Republicans are merely collateral damage.
The president’s core supporters do not like Californians and, by and large, are anti-immigrant. Neither Trump nor Sessions have anything to lose by poking the Bear. Especially Sessions. It’s an opportunity to, once again, curry favor with the president and prove his loyalty; a trait the president values above all else.
In addressing the California Peace Officers Association, in Sacramento, AG Sessions singled out the Mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, who recently announced publicly that federal immigration authorities would be conducting raids in her city.
In prepared remarks released by the Department of Justice, Sessions said, “How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda.” Yet, an overwhelming number of law enforcement officials throughout the country – in both red and blue states – are opposed to a government crackdown on sanctuary cities and states.
Following the DOJ’s filing, Sen. Kamala Harris told reporters, “The DOJ has limited resources and it would be a much better use of those resources to focus on issues that really impact the public safety and well-being of the American public, including in California and including local law enforcement in California.”
That sentiment is echoed by top local law enforcement officials. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was an early supporter of sanctuary cities, saying the bill would foster trust among immigrant communities; and, while initially opposed, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell now stands behind the sanctuary law.
What’s most problematic about AG Sessions’ lawsuit, and any further actions he may take in other jurisdictions, is that it does not truly address the key issue at hand: immigration reform. He, alone, is not at fault. Intransigent leadership in Washington and an administration willing to placate a small minority of Americans through the institution of flawed legislation is a far greater issue.
Blanket deportation, ignoring the plight of DACA recipients, and separation of immigrant parents from their U.S.-born children is not the solution. Comprehensive reform of our immigration laws is paramount. This may include some form of amnesty for those already here, extension of DACA, and creating pathways to citizenship in exchange for more restrictive immigration legislation downstream.
There are no simple solutions to immigration issues and there will inevitably be pushback from both sides in trying to resolve them. One thing is certain, angering the Bear by hauling it into court may make things further unbearable for Attorney General Sessions and President Trump.