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Gov. Jerry Brown: Sessions ‘sowing discord’ instead of proposing immigration reform

California Gov. Jerry Brown says the Trump administration's lawsuit against the state over immigration is a political stunt, and called Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ claim that California is protecting criminals a lie. Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra join Judy Woodruff to share their reactions to the Justice Department’s case against California.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the Trump administration's case against the state of California over immigration.

    And we are joined by two of the named defendants, California Governor Jerry Brown and the state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra.

    Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.

    Governor Brown, to you first.

    The Trump administration is saying basically that the state of California is protecting lawbreakers. Is that what you're doing?

  • Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Calif.:

    No. That's absolutely untrue.

    And as you have seen from the various indictments and the guilty pleas, the White House is full of liars. And, unfortunately, our attorney general, with this political stunt, adds to the lies of the White House.

    We're not protecting criminals. We have a law that says exactly the opposite. And any time Jeff Sessions or Immigration wants to work to help deport criminals in this state, we will be glad to help him.

    But that's not what he's doing. He's going after men, women, and children, some who have worked 10 or 20 years picking our food, washing our dishes, building houses. And, yes, we need an immigration reform for the whole nation. We don't need a Gestapo-kind of tactic with vitriol spewing out of Jeff Sessions' mouth.

    It's unbecoming. It's a political stunt. And it's not what our highest law enforcement officer should be doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Attorney General Becerra, I'm just going to read something that Attorney General Sessions said in California today, in your state.

  • He should:

    "I can't sit idly by when the lawful authority of federal officers is being blocked by legislative acts" of politicians in your state.

  • Xavier Becerra:

    That's not true. As the governor said, we don't block it. We allow the federal government to do immigration enforcement, because that's their role. That's their province. We don't get in the way.

    But we don't expect them to try to coerce us to do federal immigration enforcement for them. We do public safety, and we do it well, and that's what we will continue to do. But they shouldn't try to force us by threatening funds for our law enforcement officers, our police and sheriffs.

    And by threatening that, they think they're going to get to us cooperate with them. That's not cooperation. That's coercion. And we're not going to go there.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    And, by the way, we do cooperate. We cooperate through the state prisons, through jails. ICE can come out here and pick up their man or woman whenever they want.

    They're going way beyond that. They're going to raids. They're picking up kids, mothers, fathers.

    What we need, Jeff Sessions, propose an intelligent immigration reform, and we will work with you. But don't come out with these kind of gutter tactics, bring some of your really discredited politics from your background here. It's just not right. It's not generous, and it's not Christian.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Governor, how are the people of the country, who may not know the fine print of your state law vs. the federal law, to understand this? Because, today, for example, the attorney general said, he said, we admit 1.1 million immigrants lawfully every year into this country for immigrant — for permanent legal status.

    So, he said, "The good people of this country are right to insist that we end — that we create a rational immigration flow and protect the country from criminal aliens."

    He is focused on people who he says are breaking the law who he says your state, again, is protecting.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    That is a lie. I'm choosing my words very carefully. The law explicitly recognizes the supremacy of federal law.

    We have explicit statutes of cooperation. We don't want to protect any criminals. But we do want to make sure we are a country of law and order, and not some kind of authoritarian coming out here for a 10-minute speech, and then running back to Washington, and then sending it out through the Trump campaign political wire.

    I mean, this is a serious problem with men and women and children's lives at stake here. And I call upon Mr. Sessions and Mr. Trump to act like Americans, act like the good Christians they claim to be, and work with us to get a good immigration law, and not to try to just hyperbolically scare the hell out of people, instead of working with the biggest state in our country in a cooperative way.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Attorney General Becerra, have you and others in the state of California tried to explain to the U.S. Justice Department where you're coming from?

    Because the portrait — the picture being painted here in Washington by the Trump administration is diametrically different from what I'm hearing you and Governor Brown say.

  • Xavier Becerra:

    Well, we have tried.

    And, in fact, not only have we tried, but we have had to file cases in court to try to make our case clear. In fact, 12 times, we have had victories against the Trump administration for this very reason. They portray things as they're not. Then, when we finally have to challenge them in court because they're not willing to make the change, we win.

    And so, if anyone has to change their ways, it's the federal government. And I agree with the governor that, if Attorney General Sessions would simply sit down with us, we could get this resolved.

    Every day, our law enforcement officers, from our local officers to my Division of Law Enforcement personnel, we're working day to day with every federal law enforcement agency you can think of, whether it's ICE, FBI, DEA. We can continue to do that work. But we don't need to have folks trying to make a political statement here. That doesn't give us any progress.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, I…

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    I agree with that.

    We're threatened by the cartels and the gangs and the dope coming in here and the guns going south. Yes, we need to cooperate to protect the public, to protect America.

    And Sessions is just dividing. He's sowing discord, at a time when we need to come together. He's building a wall, when we need to build bridges. That is the only way America is going to stand tall in a very dangerous, turbulent world that we now face.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, Governor, I come back just quickly to the words of the attorney general. He said: "It can't be that someone who illegally crosses the border, two days later arrives in Sacramento, Dubuque, Louisville or someplace else, home-free, never to be removed."

  • He said:

    "It can't be the policy of a great nation to up and reward those who unlawfully enter its country without documentation."

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    Well, as he framed it, I agree with that.

    But that's not what he's doing. Look, the Trump people have a record — I think it's — what is it — 1,114 lies and misrepresentations coming out of the White House.

    Sessions is in a cesspool of deception and mendacity. So, don't believe him. We will work with him to deport criminals. Our prison system does that every day. So, let's work together, pull America together, not divide and throw out this red meat for the most extreme elements of their political base.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Attorney General Becerra, what do you say to Attorney General Sessions' charge that California has essentially, I mean, in his words, enacted a number of laws designed to "intentionally obstruct the work of our sworn immigration enforcement officers," to intentionally undermine their ability to do their jobs?

  • Xavier Becerra:

    Well, it's an intentional misrepresentation.

    If you just simply read the laws, most of those statutes say from the very beginning, except as required by federal law, we will do this. Or they actually point out the statute that the Trump administration has tried to sue California on, where we actually cite the words of the statute in those provisions of law that we have in California that essentially protect the federal government's right to enforce immigration law.

    And so they continue to say these things, but the statutes that they point to that say that — restrict the ability of ICE to do its work are the very statutes that say that we exempt federal law, or we allow federal law to take precedent over anything that the state law says.

    So it's a clear misrepresentation by them.

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    Yes. And, by the way, the attorney general got a very tepid response. I think,out of 200 people, 10 people stood up after he gave his speech.

    And the most important police chiefs support these bills. They don't support Jeff Sessions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very quickly, Governor, President Trump is going to be in California next week. Do you have plans to meet with him?

  • Gov. Jerry Brown:

    Well, he hasn't let me know.

    By the way, we called Sessions' office, the attorney general's office, are you coming out? They wouldn't even take the call. But they notified the press.

    This is press release politics. I don't know whether — Trump, he can call me on the phone. I have talked to him before about disaster relief. We had a very fine conversation.

    So, look, I want to collaborate, but I'm not going to be complicit with lies and denigrating the great state of California.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Governor Jerry Brown, California's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, gentlemen, thank you both.

  • Xavier Becerra:

    Thank you.

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