Capitol Hill’s sharp divide on immigration extended to the Trump administration’s decision to sue California for shielding undocumented immigrants, with numerous Democratic lawmakers blasting the Justice Department’s action and many Republicans applauding it.
“It’s very disturbing,” California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told VOA on Thursday. “It’s all unnecessary.”
“The attorney general is doing something that’s long overdue and necessary,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said.
Speaking Wednesday in Sacramento, California, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to force the state to abandon so-called “sanctuary” policies for undocumented immigrants.
"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 said. “We are fighting to make your jobs safer and to help you reduce crime in America. We are fighting to have a lawful system of immigration that serves Americans. And we intend to win this fight."
California is one of several states, along with hundreds of municipalities across America, that do not alert U.S. immigration officials when an undocumented person is taken into custody or otherwise made known to local authorities.
Last year, California passed a set of laws the Department of Justice said obstruct federal immigration law and are unconstitutional, such as shielding companies’ employee files from immigration agents and prohibiting local law enforcement from alerting immigration agents when undocumented immigrants are released from custody.
Feinstein warned of draconian results if the administration’s lawsuit succeeds.
“Everyone in California is for law and order. What we’re not for are parents being picked up and deported when they bring their children to schools, or in the workplace,” the senator said.
“We know what the Trump administration’s goal is: to change the face of immigration in America,” Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin said. “People across the United States are doing their best, within the law, to resist that change.”
Durbin added, “We embrace immigration as part of our birthright, as part of our history and part of our future. And we’re going to resist in every legal way possible this effort by the Trump administration.”
Cornyn told VOA the issue boils down to a basic constitutional concept: state and local governments cannot flout federal law.
“We are either a nation or we are a confederation of cities and states that have different laws and rules,” Cornyn said. “In the end, the sanctuary policies that many of these cities have adopted are really a threat to the safety and security of the populations where these folks [undocumented immigrants] end up embedding.”
"Arresting and deporting illegal immigrants shouldn't be shocking," California Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa said. "I commend Attorney General Sessions for taking action on California's lawlessness."
Last month, the Senate rejected a proposal to cut off federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities.” The bill was named after Kate Steinle, a woman gunned down by an undocumented immigrant with a felony record who had been released from local custody in San Francisco in 2015.