Immigration and public safety emerged Monday as central themes of Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones’ quest for Congress, as the Antelope Republican formally launched his candidacy for the battleground seat now held by Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove.
Jones, joined by family and supporters at a news conference in Rancho Cordova, attacked the White House and Congress for inaction that he blamed for leaving Americans increasingly unsafe.
“For as diligent as I can be in protecting the citizens of Sacramento County, our national leaders are driving us ever closer and faster to disaster,” Jones said Monday. The failed immigration policies, he said, are emblematic of what he labeled similar inaction in the fight against the Islamic State.
“Make no mistake about it, when America retreats, the world descends into chaos. We saw as an example Friday in Paris,” he said, adding, “This administration has no clue. They have no clue what threat is facing us and they don’t have any strategy to overcome it. That will be a huge issue in this race.”
Jones did not present any specific proposals for immigration fixes. Any plan, he said, has to secure the nation’s borders first. At that point, he said, lawmakers can begin discussing issues such as a pathway to citizenship for people in the country illegally.
Jones dismissed as “untenable” the idea of deporting the country’s more than 11 million undocumented immigrants. “But we have to know with some level of confidence who they are,” he said.
Outside super PACs spent more than $13 million during the 2014 7th Congressional District campaign.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has not taken up comprehensive immigration legislation. The Senate passed a bill – backed by Bera, almost every Democrat and some Republicans – that offers a pathway to citizenship. It has never been considered by the House.
In October 2014, during a debate with his Republican challenger, former Rep. Doug Ose, Bera noted that the immigration measure has support from business and farming organizations.
“Let’s secure our borders, let’s make sure we get the best and brightest to come here to America, that we let them stay here, and build their jobs here,” Bera said. A Jones spokesman said the sheriff has no position on the measure in Congress.
Monday’s remarks came about a year after Jones’ release of a video letter to President Barack Obama after the October 2014 killings of two sheriff’s deputies, in which an undocumented immigrant is suspected. In addition, the July shooting of a San Francisco woman, in which an undocumented immigrant with several felony convictions and deportations on his record is suspected, highlighted the policies of San Francisco and other so-called sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
18 Estimated percentage of residents in the 7th Congressional District who are foreign-born
Hector Barajas, a Republican strategist unaffiliated with Jones’ campaign, said he thinks Jones is on politically safe ground linking improvements to the country’s immigration system with public safety. A risk comes if the talk turns to children who were brought into the country illegally by their parents, or longtime undocumented immigrants who have followed all laws – two groups who polls show have public support.
“If he’s talking about it from a law enforcement perspective, I think that’s where you have the discussion on immigration,” Barajas said of Jones.
Monday’s remarks offered further signs the migration crisis in Europe, worsening violence in the Middle East, and last week’s terrorist attacks will become increasingly prominent themes in the presidential race as well as individual House contests around the country.
Asked if he supported sending U.S. troops to fight the Islamic State, Jones said he wanted to learn more from the nation’s generals and other experts. But echoing national Republicans, he criticized Obama’s refusal Monday to expand the use of force. “Let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there?” Obama said.
“That attitude scares me,” Jones said. “But the answer is, well, we go to Turkey, we go to Morocco, we go wherever the terrorists are and we win this war. We are not winning. In fact, we are losing.”
Bera, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “is focused on keeping our country safe and strengthening our national security,” spokeswoman Alexandra Gilliland said, noting that Bera two weeks ago in committee said the U.S. needs to do more to fight Islamic State recruiting tactics.