Forget #Calexit. We don’t need to wait until 2018 for a silly vote. California has all but decided to secede from the union.
How else to interpret our officials’ lawless course in the coming fight with the Trump administration over illegal immigration?
They’ve laid down their markers. They’ve drawn their lines. Gov. Jerry Brown: “We will protect the precious rights of our people.”
Sacramento Mayor-elect Darrell Steinberg: “We are going to make it very clear that Sacramento will continue to be a sanctuary city.”
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf: “I like to compare this to conscientious objector status. We are not going to use our resources to enforce what we believe are unjust immigration laws.”
University of California President Janet Napolitano: “All members of our community have the right to work, study, and live safely and without fear at all UC locations.”
This week, Napolitano joined Cal State University chancellor Timothy White and Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor-designate of California Community Colleges, in a joint letter to the president-elect, urging him to leave alone an estimated 74,000 undocumented immigrants enrolled in one of the three systems.
“These sons and daughters of undocumented immigrants are as American as any other child across the nation,” they wrote. These students “should be able to pursue their dream of higher education without fear of being arrested, deported or rounded up for just trying to learn.”
First, they aren’t children. Second, they aren’t at risk of arrest and deportation “for just trying to learn.” They’re at risk of arrest and deportation for being in the country illegally.
Contrary to Steinberg, Schaaf and others, immigration is not a civil rights issue. Or a “resistance” issue (to borrow a loaded term appearing in news stories with disturbing regularity).
It’s a sovereignty issue.
“Sovereignty,” “citizenship” and “assimilation” seem like quaint concepts in an era of “prosecutorial discretion” and “executive action” undertaken by a president and an administration entirely unafraid to wield their pens and phones. But they are at the heart of the immigration question.
Over the past decade, California has sought deliberately to blur the lines between citizen and non-citizen, between green card holder and “unauthorized immigrant.” Illegal immigrants may obtain driver’s licenses. They may receive in-state college tuition and now may hold professional licenses. Some cities let non-citizens vote in municipal elections.
Eliminating the distinction between citizen and non-citizen, between legal and illegal immigrant, undermines social cohesion and the rule of law.
Our officials know it, too.
For anyone who cared to notice, Trump has walked back some of his more incendiary rhetoric on immigration. But on the question of deporting criminal aliens, Trump has not wavered: cities that do not cooperate could lose federal funding. All of it.
According to the New York Times, Oakland stands to lose as much as $140 million in federal money for homeless shelters, meals for the elderly and low-income preschool programs, while Los Angeles could lose upwards of $500 million of its $9 billion budget.
Understandably, local law enforcement officials find themselves in a bind. “I depend on [undocumented immigrants] to be witnesses to crime, I depend on them to report crime, I depend on them to support the police department,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told an interviewer last month. “And none of that is as likely to happen if we become an arm of immigration enforcement.”
Which is exactly what you would expect to happen when you look the other way for decades. But that isn’t what the law says. That isn’t how a properly functioning immigration and naturalization system is supposed to work. And it isn’t fair to American citizens.
Our immigration system needs an overhaul. But states and cities don’t get to make immigration policy. California will pay dearly for its lawless stance.
Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness, a new journal of conservative opinion. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.