RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was in California yesterday to remind state officials there just who is in charge.
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JEFF SESSIONS: There is no secession. Federal law is the supreme law of the land. I would invite any doubters to go to Gettysburg or to the tombstones of John C. Calhoun and Abraham Lincoln. This matter has been settled.
MARTIN: Sessions' unusually forceful remarks came just hours after the Trump administration filed a lawsuit against the state of California, accusing it and its top officials of actively obstructing federal efforts to apprehend people who came to this country illegally. The federal government is trying to crack down on what are known as sanctuary cities. But mayors in these cities are not backing down. One of them is Darrell Steinberg. He is the mayor of Sacramento, and he joins us now.
Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us.
DARRELL STEINBERG: Good morning. Good to be with you, Rachel.
MARTIN: Strong words there from the attorney general, invoking the Civil War even. Does he have a point, though? Immigration is an area of federal authority. By restricting the work of immigration officials at the federal level, are you not, in fact, violating federal law?
STEINBERG: No, we completely disagree. The lawsuit is unnecessary. It's mean-spirited. It really - it's a cruel attempt to intimidate and scare our families, our kids, the DREAMers and hardworking immigrants. And, you know, our response in California is consistent, and it's strong. It won't work.
MARTIN: You can disagree with the law. But are you not breaking the law?
STEINBERG: No, we are not breaking the law. In fact, the problem with the lawsuit is that the Trump administration fails to distinguish our obligation to cooperate when it comes to apprehending people who have committed serious crimes. That's not what the Trump immigration policy is about. They are seeking to intimidate and to arrest people who have not committed serious crimes. And, you know, that's just plain wrong. It's not consistent with the best of American values. And we are going to proudly resist.
You know, the Trump administration does not exactly have a great track record when it comes to their executive orders and trying to enforce these laws in the way that they're doing. And so yeah, we are in a fight. And I find it rather ironic, by the way, Rachel, that a former senator from Alabama would invoke the idea of secession. California is a very important part of this country. And it's our constitutional right to resist peacefully these sorts of efforts. It's just plain not right.
MARTIN: Let me ask you - in his speech to the California Peace Officers' Association, AG Sessions said mayors like you are promoting a, quote, "radical open borders agenda that endangers the lives of law enforcement officers." How do you respond to that?
STEINBERG: I mean, come on. Really? First of all, this has never been - sanctuary is not about protecting people who have committed serious crimes. It is about standing up for hardworking families and DREAMers. We're not - this is not about open borders. This was an attempt to come into my city and to try to intimidate us. Look at the history. They've threatened to arrest local officials. They, you know, have increased their number of raids.
And you know, this is not a political thing. Threatening to arrest me? I'm fine. The mayors are fine. The elected officials are fine. It's the people living in our communities that have lived here, by the way, for decades. These are people going to school, people going to college, people who are contributing to our tax base. And we have an obligation to stand up for those people. And that's exactly what we're going to do.
MARTIN: Although, does not the federal government have standing here? I mean, if you look at the reverse situation, the Obama administration went after the state of Arizona because it didn't like how it was enforcing its state immigration policies.
STEINBERG: I understand the argument, but this is really turning that precedent on its head because in the Arizona case, of course, the federal - the state government was infringing upon the rights and the safety of people who were just trying to make their way. In this instance, of course the federal government's doing just the opposite. And so I'm confident we'll win in court because the lawsuit is a major overreach.
MARTIN: Darrell Steinberg is the mayor of Sacramento, talking this morning about the DOJ suit against the state of California.
Thank you so much for your time this morning, Mr. Mayor.
STEINBERG: Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.