Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department would sue California, its governor, Jerry Brown, and the state attorney general because of California’s passage of three laws designed to offer a modicum of protection to undocumented immigrants. Chief among these is SB 54, the California Values Act, which limits, though does not eliminate, local law-enforcement cooperation with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
On Wednesday, Sessions journeyed to the state capital, Sacramento, to address a gathering of law-enforcement officers and hammer home his point. California, he argued—in limiting cooperation with ICE agents by penalizing employers who let ICE conduct raids on their work force without a warrant, and in mandating that the state’s attorney general conduct a review of all sites where immigrants are being detained by federal authorities—was essentially usurping federal responsibilities around immigration laws and behaving like a secessionist republic.
As he spoke at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, a new venue next door to the city’s also-new basketball arena, several blocks northwest of the capitol building, hundreds of protesters gathered outside in the early-morning chill. They had been mobilized at a few hours’ notice, through social media and word of mouth. The demonstrators carried signs with slogans such as “Todos Somos Hermanas,” “Full Rights for All,” and “First They Came For Immigrants.”
At 7:55 am, a few minutes before Sessions was scheduled to speak, the crowd moved from the sidewalk to the center of J Street, one of downtown Sacramento’s main arteries, temporarily blocking traffic and chanting, “Education, Not Deportation,” and “No Sessions, No KKK, No Fascist USA.” Then they marched east one block, south one block, and into the pedestrian area separating the arena from the hotel. And there, with construction workers atop the unfinished nearby buildings looking on and taking photos with their cell phones, local union leaders, school-board members, City Council members, State Assembly members, and state senators all took turns at the microphone defending California’s immigrant population and vowing to stand firm in the face of the federal threats.
“Are we ready to resist, to defend our state?” Assembly member David Chiu, himself the child of immigrants and the author of one of the bills that Sessions is suing California over, asked the crowd. “Mr. Trump, Mr. Sessions, we are America, we are California, and we will be here long after you are gone.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, whose primary challenge to US Senator Dianne Feinstein has recently begun picking up some traction, was also in the crowd. Increasingly, these days, he presents himself as a national rather than a regional politician. Wearing a dark-blue suit and a sober blue tie, his white shirt buttoned down, his purple patent-leather shoes carefully polished, de León talked to a throng of reporters as the event wound down. “We believe constitutionally we are on firm ground,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to lose.”