Retired Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz would tell his students the oft-repeated secret to good lawyering.
“When the law is on your side,” Dershowitz would say, “pound the law into the table. When the facts are on your side, pound the facts into the table. And when neither the law nor the facts are on your side, just pound the table.”
In attacking so-called sanctuary cities, conservatives don’t have either the facts or the law on their side. So they pound the table. They oversimplify, contradict themselves and talk in circles. The issue makes them crazy, which is how they sound.
Do they support states’ rights? It depends.
California lawmakers are advancing a “sanctuary state” bill that would keep state and local police out of the immigration enforcement business. SB 54 – which cleared the state Senate last week – prohibits police from asking people about immigration status, allowing federal immigration agents to interview someone in custody, or assisting those agents in the enforcement of immigration law.
Conservatives are furious. They say California has gone rogue and that it has to be reined in.
Yet just a few years ago, in defending Arizona’s racist immigration law, they argued in favor of states’ rights and commended localities for challenging the federal government.
How about the independence of local police departments? Do conservatives support that? It depends.
Recently, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered a review of consent decrees between the Justice Department and local police departments accused of abuse. Championing the autonomy of local authorities, Sessions wrote in a staff memo: “Local control and local accountability are necessary for effective local policing. It is not the responsibility of the federal government to manage non-federal law enforcement agencies.”
Except, it seems, when those local law enforcement agencies refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents. At that point, it is the “responsibility” of the federal government not just to manage the localities but to crush them.
The very idea of sanctuary cities has turned conservatives into a hot mess. So they’ve created an alternate reality.
Imagine a scenario where illegal immigrants flood unchecked across the U.S.-Mexico border and prey on Americans at will – robbing, raping, assaulting and killing. Then they flee to these sanctuaries where they live out the rest of their days without fear of federal authorities. And, on the rare occasion that one of these predators winds up in the county jail, they’re coddled by local law enforcement officials. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement asks that local authorities hold them there so they can be questioned about their immigration status, that request is ignored and the scofflaw is released into society.
Indeed, you have to imagine it. Because it’s not real. No matter what conservatives say, this is not what’s happening all across America.
If you’re an illegal immigrant, there are no magical places where federal immigration statutes are null and void and where federal agents can’t find, arrest and deport you.
When I tell this to opponents of sanctuary cities, they change the subject and talk about how the sheriff’s departments that run the jails don’t “cooperate” with federal agents.
But local police are not legally required to be errand boys for federal authorities. They may cooperate if they like, out of professional courtesy. By the way, that is something in short supply coming from the other direction. Ask any cop and they’ll tell you: Federal agents are notoriously uncooperative with local police.
When I tell this to conservatives, they change the subject again and accuse local police, mayors, city councils and county boards of supervisors of actually “aiding and abetting” the undocumented by shielding them from federal immigration agents.
But that’s not true either. The local authorities say they just want to see a warrant with the individual’s name on it before they hand him over; of course, that means convincing a judge that the person is in the country illegally, and that takes evidence which the feds usually don’t have.
Besides, if the federal government is truly interested in cracking down on those who “aid and abet” the undocumented, why not go after the people who give them money? They’re called employers. And they’re likely to put up some resistance.
When attacking so-called sanctuary cities, conservatives push arguments that dissolve like cotton candy in a rainstorm. Which explains why they cling so desperately to falsehoods and fake narratives. What else is there? Reality and truth are not so kind.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.