Ruben Navarrette: In a huff over immigration

08/30/2014 5:00 PM

08/29/2014 4:27 PM

SAN DIEGO – Conservatives need to chill out and stop getting worked up over silly things.

And there is nothing sillier than their claim that California Gov. Jerry Brown is throwing open the doors to illegal immigrants – all because of an off-the-cuff comment the Democrat made that sounded a little too welcoming.

On immigration, many conservatives are always on edge and think that anyone who disagrees with them supports open borders. If they cannot find a liberal saying something scandalous, they’ll take some innocent remark and make a scandal out of it. This is problematic in a debate where liberals are often not so liberal. Some who support blue-collar workers insist that wages would be higher if not for illegal immigrants.

The dustup started when Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto visited California last week and put in a pitch for comprehensive immigration reform in the United States.

No word on whether Mexico will soon be reforming its own immigration policies, which attempt to keep out folks from Central America.

Speaking to a gathering of hundreds of dignitaries in Los Angeles, Pena Nieto pleaded for “justice for those who contribute so much to the development of the American society.”

About that, he’s correct. The contributions of illegal immigrants extend to the economies of states such as California, which produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables, taking in more than $45 billion a year. By the admission of farmers themselves, the industry is almost totally dependent on illegal immigrant labor.

Like to consume milk or cheese, or eat fruits and vegetables? Go to California and hug an illegal immigrant.

Yet it was Brown who made the comment that really put conservatives off their meds. He simply said how nice it was “to be assembled here with the governors, the secretaries, and so many good people. Some citizens, maybe many not. But you’re all welcome in California today.”

Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly accused Brown of “undermining American immigration law” and creating “a sanctuary state in California.”

Oh really? What Brown said was harmless and comparable to the mayor of New York City celebrating a Yankees World Series victory by declaring to Americans: “Today, you’re all New Yorkers.”

In the remainder of his remarks, Brown did what Democrats always do: act morally superior to Republicans. The governor took a swipe at his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It wasn’t very long ago that the governor of California was outlawing driver’s licenses for people who were undocumented from Mexico,” he said. “That’s not the law anymore.”

Brown didn’t mention that there is some nuance concerning licenses, and that during the debate over issuing them, he tangled with immigrant activists because he wanted the licenses stamped with language making it clear that they were for driving purposes only. Some on the left called the qualifier a “scarlet letter” that would promote ethnic profiling by police. In the end, Brown won.

Finally, the governor said, there should be freer movement between neighboring countries.

“If we can put a man on the moon,” he said, “we can put a man from Mexico to California in 20 minutes.”

I bet we can cut that time in half if the crops are ready for harvest and it’s hiring season.

Now serving his third term as governor spread out over four decades, Brown sometimes approaches the immigration issue by taking every side and trying to please everyone. In other respects, the idealist has become the pragmatist.

After all, the 76-year-old has been around the block – and then some. In between his stints in the governor’s office, he served as mayor of Oakland and state attorney general. In Oakland, he heard from Democratic constituents about how African-Americans are crowded out of neighborhoods and losing jobs to illegal immigrants. As attorney general, Brown signed an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to participate in Secure Communities, which essentially deputizes local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. And as governor, he tangled with the left again when, under pressure from the Obama administration, Brown vetoed the Trust Act, a bill that would have nullified the agreements with the federal government and prohibited local and state police from acting as immigration agents. Later, he signed a rewritten version.

And this is the same Jerry Brown who supposedly wants an open border? It sounds like conservatives such as Bill O’Reilly would do well to crack open their minds – before they open their mouths.

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