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Washington (AFP) – US Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned California Wednesday that the federal government would use all its legal powers to fight protections provided unauthorized immigrants, a day after suing the state over its sanctuary laws.

“California is using every power it has — and some it doesn’t — to frustrate federal law enforcement. So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them,” Sessions told law enforcement officials in Sacramento.

The Justice Department sued Tuesday over three California statutes that support cities and counties that refuse to hand over undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities for prosecution or expulsion.

Sessions accused the state of deliberately obstructing enforcement of federal immigration law.

“Immigration law is the province of the federal government,” Sessions said.

“A refusal to apprehend and deport those, especially the criminal element, effectively rejects all immigration law…. And it creates an open borders system. Open borders is a radical, irrational idea that cannot be accepted.”

The lawsuit, filed in the federal court in the eastern district of California, steps up President Donald Trump’s battle against cities and states around the country offering protection to resident unauthorized immigrants from federal authorities. 

Since coming to office, Trump and Sessions have pushed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to step up the arrest and expulsion of people who entered the United States without papers.

That threatens millions of people who, though without legal papers, have built lives, families and companies across the country, many over decades.

– ‘Sanctuary state’ –

California is home to the largest number of undocumented immigrants, nearly one-quarter of the estimated 11 million in total across the United States.

Last October Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation making all of California a “sanctuary state” in an open challenge to the administration.

On February 24 Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, California issued an open warning to cities in the San Francisco Bay area that ICE was preparing a soon to be launched operation to round up vulnerable immigrants.

Schaaf’s move outraged the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE and the CBP. 

“The mayor of Oakland has been actively seeking to help illegal aliens avoid apprehension by ICE. Her actions support those who flout our laws and boldly validate the illegality,” Sessions said.

He said the raid would have netted some 800 arrests if Schaaf had not issued her warning.

“Here’s my message to Mayor Schaaf: how dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of law enforcement officials just to promote a radical open borders agenda?” Sessions said.

– ‘Divide and polarize’ –

Late Tuesday California Governor Jerry Brown took aim at Sessions’ suit and his coming speech.

“At a time of unprecedented political turmoil, Jeff Sessions has come to California to further divide and polarize America,” Brown said on Twitter.

State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who together with Brown is named as a defendant in the DOJ suit, said his job includes upholding state as well as federal laws.

“In California, our state laws work in concert with federal law. What we won’t do is change from being focused on public safety. We’re in the business of public safety, not deportation,” he said via Twitter.

Sessions, who has fought repeated court battles over immigration since taking office in January 2017, defended the Trump administration’s crackdown on both legal and illegal immigration.

“Let no one contend that we reject immigration and want to ‘wall off America’ from all lawful immigration…. We admit 1.1 million immigrants lawfully to permanent legal status—green card status every year, the highest numbers in the world,” he said.

The US “must have a lawful system of immigration. I am not aware of any advanced nation that does not understand this fundamental tenet.”

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