The Trump administration’s simmering feud with California has turned into all-out warfare over immigration after Oakland’s mayor warned illegal immigrants this week of looming sweeps — leading Homeland Security’s deportation chief to accuse her of endangering her city and his officers.
Analysts said there was no comparison in recent memory for the sort of bad blood that’s developed between President Trump and California’s leaders, who have legislated, sued, tweeted and used just about every other tool at their disposal to try to stymie the administration.
Things grew particularly tense this week with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s warning to her city’s illegal immigrants that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was conducting a major operation in the Bay Area.
ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan compared her to a gang snitch on the lookout for police, and said more than 800 criminal migrants escaped the sweep — some of them almost certainly alerted by Ms. Schaaf’s warning.
“This is beyond the pale,” Mr. Homan said on Fox News.
California is just one of the states vying for title of chief of the anti-Trump resistance. New York is also in the running, along with Hawaii, each of which have led major lawsuits against the administration.
But California’s resistance is broader and deeper, including a statewide sanctuary law that took effect Jan. 1, and lawsuits against Mr. Trump’s sanctuary-city crackdown, his border wall plans and his phase-out of the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty.
In the early rounds of the legal battle, California has scored victories on DACA and sanctuary policy, while the president won the first skirmish over the border wall this week.
That loss prompted state Attorney General Xavier Becerra to fire back, calling the wall “medieval” and promising to “do what is necessary” to stop construction.
Mr. Becerra also backed up Ms. Schaaf in her battle with ICE, saying on Twitter that the law enforcement agency had crossed lines.
“It’s becoming sadly clearer that #ICE is losing its focus on #immigration enforcement: rather than focus on people who are dangerous criminals, we hear ICE may be terrorizing communities, including family members who are citizens,” said Mr. Becerra, a Democrat and former member of Congress.
The president has gotten personally involved in the fight.
Last week, while talking with officials about ways to combat gun violence in the wake of the Florida school shooting, Mr. Trump singled out California as doing a “lousy management job” in fighting crime.
He threatened to pull federal law enforcement from the state — specifically mentioning ICE personnel and Border Patrol agents. He said he’s “thinking about doing it.”
“You would see crime like nobody has ever seen crime in this country. And yet we get no help from the state of California,” he said. “They have the highest taxes in the nation. And they don’t know what’s happening out there. Frankly it’s a disgrace.”
On Wednesday, the president took to Twitter to say he was suspending parts of the border wall that California wants built until the full wall is approved. He did not elaborate on that threat.
His own administration seemed unsure of what to make of the new orders, and said as far as they know nothing has changed.
“ICE is continuing operations,” said Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton.
Mr. Houlton also said new fence construction in Calexico, California, is proceeding.
“The funding has already been put in place so that’s a congressional thing,” he said.
Federal immigration agents also scoffed at the idea they could be pulled out of the state, and questioned the wisdom of the president’s threats.
The Trump-California feud could come to a head in mid-March, when the president is scheduled to travel to San Diego to look at the eight prototypes that were built as part of a contest to design the border wall of the future.
Mr. Trump in the past has said he would pick the winner, though Homeland Security officials on Wednesday refused to say whether that was still the plan.
“The selection of the border wall prototypes will be going through the normal course of the procurement process,” assistant secretary Jonathan Hoffman said.
Some conservative states regularly battled President Obama, with Texas leading the way in suing to stop his immigration and environmental policies. Arizona, meanwhile, took the lead on legislation, passing laws that attempted to crack down on illegal immigration.
Those laws were largely blocked by the Supreme Court.
Mark Krikorian, executive director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the difference was Arizona was trying to push a reluctant Obama administration to fully enforce federal laws. California, he said, is attempting to thwart an administration that is finally determined to carry out those laws.
“We haven’t seen this kind of animosity between a state the federal government since 1865,” he said.
He doubted either side will give in, and said an escalationis more likely.
“I think what will turn the dial up to 11 on this is if and when a city or state official is criminally prosecuted either for obstruction of justice or harboring illegal aliens,” he said.
Mr. Homan has already set the stage for that move. He suggested last year that officials from sanctuary cities could face federal charges. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen told Congress last month that she’s officially asked the Justice Department to look into that move.
A senior administration official this week declined to comment on that possibility.