Capitol Alert

Xavier Becerra’s Spanish-language rebuttal: ‘We must fight for our agenda’

California’s attorney general used a national spotlight and a diverse Sacramento high school campus on Tuesday to promote his efforts in court to undo President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Xavier Becerra’s remarks came during a rare Spanish-language rebuttal of Trump’s State of the Union address in which he pledged to continue his legal battle against the administration. His speech, which lasted a little over 12 minutes, was broadcast on Univision – the largest Spanish network in the country – and streamed live online.

Becerra, the son of Mexican immigrants and frequent critic of the Trump administration, has not been shy about his resistance to White House policies. His fight against the federal government has included 42 lawsuits, which have mainly dealt with immigration, health care and environmental issues.

The lawsuits have also come with a price tag for California taxpayers – $9.2 million in fiscal year 2017-18.

In his remarks, Becerra offered his own characterization of the state of the union, saying that ‘our young, rich, and strong nation finds itself in a state . . . of . . . disorder . . . stress . . . hostility.”

He pledged to sue the administration yet again, if Trump were to declare a state of emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The idea of declaring a nonexistent state of emergency on the border, in order to justify robbing funds that belong to the victims of fires, floods, hurricanes, and droughts, to pay for the wall is not only immoral, it is illegal,” he said. “We are ready to reject this foolish proposal in court the moment it touches the ground.”

Becerra gave his speech at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, where he attended school.

Families and students surrounded him as he spoke in front of the cameras. The school’s population is diverse: Latinos represented a 42.2 percent of the student body in the 2017-18 school year, according to Ed-Data, which provides comprehensive K-12 education data in California.

Becerra used his speech to continue to further his agenda on issues he personally feels strong about, including immigration and health care.

He said the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border is not the only wall the administration is trying to erect.

“They are putting a wall between you and your doctor, dictating what services you can receive... they are putting a wall between you and the voting booth,” he said. “They are putting a wall between our veterans and the protections they more than earned, like health care.”

Becerra said the administration is also putting a wall between parents and children, “by putting children in cages away from their families,” referring to a controversial “zero tolerance” immigration policy. Under the policy, thousands of children were separated from their families at the border.

California and nine other states sued the Trump administration over the issue of family separation resulting from the “zero tolerance” policy, one of several lawsuits lodged against the administration over immigration issues.

Another challenged Trump over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. His administration sought to put an end to the program, which was born out of an Obama-era executive action.

DACA granted young undocumented adults, who were brought into the U.S. as children by their parents, the right to remain in the U.S. without fear of deportation. The program is still engulfed in a legal battle, and while no new applications are being accepted, current DACA recipients are still allowed to renew their two-year permits to remain in the country, and be able to work legally.

California has also led high-profile lawsuits over Republican-led efforts to do away with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

The lawsuit over DACA and Obamacare were among victories cited by Becerra during his speech.

“Friends, believe me, we can bring down walls with our hands. More than that, we have done it,” Becerra said. “With your votes, last November, you changed the composition of the Congress.”

In November, Becerra said, historic numbers of young Latinos took to the voting polls. He said the votes changed the country’s politics, and Trump can no longer ignore Democrats, which is why he can’t get the border wall.

With 66,000 young Latinos “reaching 18 years of age, the voting age, every month,” he said more change could come in the next election.

“Imagine if we had the power to decide the political agenda for this country,” he said.

He told his audience that could mean better schools, better salary and benefits, as well as employment protections, better laws to protect families and police from gun violence, protections for Dreamers, better environmental laws, and comprehensive immigration reform to fix the current broken system.

“This is not the agenda that the president presented, but these are the solutions that open doors for opportunity,” he said.

Whether it be in the courts, or through Congress, or at the polls, Becerra said Latinos need to fight for those changes.

“We have to fight for our agenda,” he said. “That’s why I have fought as attorney general, in court, against the Trump administration and we are winning.”

Not every California lawsuit against the federal government has been a victory.

California sued the Trump administration over the border wall, but a U.S. judge in early 2018 ruled in favor of the administration. The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected hearing the matter in December 2018.

During his State of the Union address, Trump said the country needs an immigration system that is safe, modern and secure. He also remained firm on his plans to build a border wall and promised to “get it built,” citing San Diego as an example of success.

“Walls work and walls save lives,” he said.

Becerra noted that Trump no longer repeats his promise that Mexico would pay for the millions that it will cost to build the wall.

He also touched on the ongoing investigation of the Russian interference in the country’s 2016 elections and the potential impact on Trump.

“Criminality, conspiracy, obstruction of justice,“ he said. “All those dark shadows follow Donald Trump and his administration.”

Becerra said it’s not a surprise that many Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. He had hoped to hear a State of the Union that would convince the people that the lies and dysfunction would end and cooperation would begin. Instead, he said, people heard the “tireless refrain about building walls.”

Yesenia Amaro: 559-441-6144, @YeseniaAmaro