LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Hundreds of protestors greeted Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he visited a downtown federal courthouse Tuesday.
Protestors clad in bright-colored safety vests held hands and linked arms to block Spring Street, where Sessions was expected to meet with Los Angeles prosecutors.
Sessions later gave the speech at the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation's Annual Luncheon Meeting at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, where he defended the administration's controversial "zero tolerance" policy for detaining children who enter the U.S. illegally. Sessions blasted what he called the "open border crowd," citing Democratic immigration policies that have allowed over one
million undocumented immigrants to remain free of prosecution in the Southland.
"From coast to coast — perhaps especially on this coast — there are politicians who think that having any border at all is mean-spirited, unkind, or even bigoted," said Sessions. "The vice-chairman of the Democratic National Committee recently wore a t-shirt that says 'I don't believe in borders'. I wonder what his neighbors think about that."
The Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles would not confirm the visit beforehand.
"This is the Trump era," Sessions said. "We are enforcing our laws again. We know whose side we're on -- we're on the side of police, and we're on the side of the American people.'"
About two dozen members of the clergy were arrested after linking arms and ignoring a police order to disperse. Reverend Felicia Parazaider said the clergy members in the street objected to Sessions quoting Bible verses while defending his border policies.
"I'm an interfaith minister and I don't profess to know everything about every piece of scripture, but Jesus' message was about love, and it's all about inclusively and welcoming your neighbor," she said.
Police gave a five-minute warning in advance of the arrests, with a sergeant announcing on a loudspeaker that the protest was an unlawful assembly. By then most of the several hundred protesters had moved to the sidewalk to observe, but the clergy members remained on Spring Street, linking arms and sitting down.
The Los Angeles Police Department had already closed the section of Spring Street in front of the courthouse between Temple and Aliso streets and the clergy did not appear to put up any resistance, as LAPD officers went one by one down the line and asked them to stand and be handcuffed. The arrests took over 30 minutes for LAPD officers to complete.
Amid heavy bipartisan pressure, President Donald Trump last week ended a policy of separating children from their parents at the U.S. border.
Despite the uproar, Sessions said he was convinced that Americans support the government's immigration efforts.
"In the 2016 election, voters said loud and clear that they wanted a lawful system of immigration that serves the national interest,'' he said.
"They said we've waited long enough. I believe that this is one of the main reasons that President Trump won. He promised to tackle this crisis that had been ignored or made worse by so many before him. And now he's doing exactly what the American people asked him to do."
Sessions suggested that California's so-called "sanctuary law'" is drastically curtailing the efforts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to arrest and prosecute criminal immigrants.
"That has real consequences," Sessions told the gathering.
"ICE tells us that they are able to locate only about 6 percent of the criminals they ask sanctuary jurisdictions to turn over. The other 94 percent are walking free and often on their way to their next victim."
"If they won't allow us to deport someone who enters illegally and then commits another crime -- who will they agree to deport?" the AG asked.
"Sadly, we know the answer to this -- nobody."
Sessions added that a non-prosecutorial immigration policy "sends a message'' to those in developing nations who don't know U.S. immigration laws and believe they will be safe from prosecution once they cross the border.
"Gangs and drug cartels ... see whether we deport criminals or not,'' Sessions said. "They see whether we have a border wall or not. They see whether we reward illegal aliens with benefits or not."
"That's why, under President Trump's leadership, the Department of Justice is working to end sanctuary policies,'' he continued, referring to a recent DOJ lawsuit against the state that alleges that California laws obstruct enforcement of federal immigration law and harm public safety.
"I am confident that together we are going to win that case," Sessions said. "It has been settled since 1819 that a state cannot actively attempt to undermine the execution of federal law or discriminate against the federal government. The American people are with us on this issue."
Blaming what he indicated were Democratic policies in which border security was ignored, Sessions said the "open border crowd" was "fighting desperately to stop the good and decent wishes of the American people from being carried out.''
"They don't like it when we deport people -- even criminal aliens," the AG said. "They don't like it when we stop people at the border -- even those smuggling children. They don't like interior enforcement and they don't like workplace enforcement. No matter what we do, they complain."
Pointing to California, Sessions said many of the state's politicians believe that "having any border at all is mean-spirited, unkind, or even bigoted."
Sessions said that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said that "'there's really no difference between my parents and (illegal) immigrants except a piece of paper.' Paperwork, meaning compliance with our law, is important. And it's a shame that I must say this to the top law enforcement official in California."
But, Sessions added, "we are resolute. We are going to keep fighting. With President Trump and with your strong support for police and for the rule of law, I am confident that we will turn the tide and keep the American people safe."
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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