WASHINGTON — Speaking before a crowd of law enforcement officials in a state he had just accused of violating the Constitution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday excoriated California and some of its state and local leaders for actions that he said obstruct immigration enforcement and put officers in danger.
In an unusually strident speech that emphasized the supremacy of the federal government by referencing Abraham Lincoln and secession, Sessions said California’s actions ‘‘directly and adversely impact the work of our federal officers’’ and ‘‘undermine the duly-established immigration law in America.’’
He took particular aim at Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, a Democrat, for warning constituents last month about an impending raid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement — alleging her comments prevented authorities from making 800 arrests. And he said he planned to use the full might of the federal government to bring her state in line.
‘‘California, absolutely, appears to me, is using every power it has — powers it doesn’t have — to frustrate federal law enforcement,’’ Sessions said. ‘‘So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them.’’
The comments at the California Peace Officers Association’s annual gathering in Sacramento come a day after Sessions’ Justice Department sued the state of California, alleging that three recently passed laws that benefit undocumented immigrants are unconstitutional.
The suit, which seeks to block the laws, is an escalation of the attorney general’s crackdown on sanctuary jurisdictions, and it drew swift criticism from state leaders, who insisted their laws would pass legal muster.
Demonstrators blocked traffic on a busy street but were peaceful Wednesday as they protested Sessions’ decision to sue the state, the Associated Press reported.
Sacramento police say nobody was arrested in connection with the protests outside the Sawyer Hotel, where Sessions addressed the law enforcement officials.
Several Democratic elected officials joined demonstrators and spoke to the crowd with a bullhorn. Protesters with louder speakers angled for a more aggressive confrontation with Sessions.
Those the hotel audience clapped loudly when Sessions finished his speech.
California state leaders have girded for battle over the immigration enforcement issue, noting that when Sessions’ Justice Department has come to court before to defend policies such as the travel ban or the wind down of the Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrivals program, it has often lost.
In fiery remarks after Sessions’ speech, Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat said, ‘‘The Trump administration is full of liars,’’ and called on Sessions to apologize for ‘‘bringing the mendacity of Washington to California.’’
He called the Justice Department’s lawsuit a ‘‘political stunt,’’ and noted the irony of Sessions, who is from Alabama, talking about secession.
Brown suggested that the attorney general might be trying to get back into the good graces of President Trump, who has publicly voiced displeasure about him.
‘‘It really demeans the high office to which he has been appointed,’’ Brown said, adding later that Sessions was ‘‘initiating a reign of terror.’’
Sessions said the United States ‘‘must have a lawful system of immigration,’’ but insisted he was not trying to ‘‘wall off America from all immigrants.’’