As many as 3 million California residents are in the country illegally, which means the state has an extraordinary stake in President-elect Donald Trump’s declared intention to crack down on illegal immigration.
It also could be a test of how far California, or any state, can go in defying the federal government.
As the Legislature reconvened briefly Monday, its two top leaders, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, and others pledged to implacably resist Trump – to “fight in the streets,” as Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Los Angeles, put it during a heated debate.
“We must be defiant whenever justice, fairness and righteousness require,” Rendon said. “Californians do not need healing. We need to fight.”
There’s no doubt that California’s illegal immigrants are a net benefit, especially economically. They provide vital workers for difficult jobs that few of us would willingly do and they pay taxes to support services that in many cases they cannot access due to their status.
While California has taken many steps to quasi-legalize the undocumented and may do more, the rhetoric now coming out of the Capitol in effect denies their illegality and wrongly implies that they are victims of repression when the U.S. government enforces immigration laws.
Sovereign nations have an inherent right to control their borders. Therefore, it’s ultimately up to Congress and the president to make much-needed changes in those laws, not a state government whose overheated rhetoric makes probably meaningful reform less likely to occur by alienating residents of other states.
For all of the handwringing among Democrats, it should be noted that when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency and exercised that power on other issues, such as enacting Obamacare, they did nothing about immigration.
It’s also noteworthy that when the Obama administration was pursuing a very aggressive policy of identifying and deporting illegal immigrants – perhaps hoping that it would spur congressional action – California’s Democrats didn’t react with the same ain’t-it-awful alacrity they now exhibit.
Finally, when adjacent Arizona was defying federal law and trying to impose stricter curbs on illegal immigration, it was roundly criticized by the same California politicians who now hope their state can somehow undermine whatever Trump intends to do.
At some point, it’s reminiscent of the period when Southern states resisted the U.S. Supreme Court’s declaration that segregated schools were unconstitutional, or the “sagebrush rebellion” in some Western states.
Many are old enough to remember when President Dwight Eisenhower ordered troops to escort black children to high school in Little Rock, Ark., or when Alabama Gov. George Wallace pledged to “stand in the schoolhouse door” to resist federal authority.
Incoming legislators took an oath of allegiance to the U.S. Constitution on Monday, and that also means obedience of constitutionally valid federal laws, even those they detest.