Ted Gaines, the Republican state Senator from El Dorado Hills, seems like a real nice fella. He sports a ready smile and exudes the eager affability of a regional sales manager in the aluminum siding business.
So it was a bit jarring when Gaines donned a tan sports jacket and a bolo tie for a "tough on immigration" video he posted on Facebook last week, the same day U.S. Attorney General was in Sacramento to give a speech to local and state law enforcement officials about why the Trump administration is suing California over its sanctuary policies.
In the 34-second video, Gaines essentially parroted the immigration falsehoods promoted in the awful speech that Sessions gave at the Kimpton Sawyer Hotel, before pumping his own legislation, Senate Bill 1219, which he said would repeal California's sanctuary state status.
The whole gambit seemed sad and retrograde. Why would a veteran Republican lawmaker from California push his own state party even further into irrelevance by promoting mendacious, fear-mongering ideas on immigration? Why would Gaines join other misguided Republicans who place their own flawed immigration ideology over the economic interests of their own state?
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Nevertheless, Gaines' awkward attempt to gain traction on Sessions' slime trail was a vivid example of how otherwise reasonable people have been so easily co-opted by the immigration shell game being played by President Donald Trump and his administration.
One of the primary reasons America's broken immigration system never gets fixed is because politicians such as Sessions and Gaines willfully promote bromides divorced from realities of the issue.
Sessions' speech in Sacramento last week was a tidal wave of untruths, exaggerations and simplistic generalizations of complex issues that mark the immigration debate in America. Before a packed crowd of cops and prosecutors, he claimed that, "California won't let law enforcement officers like you and your people transfer prisoners to (the custody of federal immigration officers) or even to communicate with (them) that you're about to release them from your custody — people that (immigration officers are) looking for.."
This statement, among several others, simply doesn't hold up under scrutiny. Politifact California, for example, fact checked Sessions' claim and found it to be "mostly false."
"Local law enforcement are prohibited from working with immigration agents in cases where undocumented immigrants are charged with minor crimes, unless they are presented with a federal warrant," wrote Chris Nichols of Politifact California. "Notably, (California law) does not limit cooperation (between local and state officials and federal immigration officers) in cases involving 800 serious misdemeanor and felony crimes."
But that's just the beginning. Sessions also gave the false impression that California is being overrun by dangerous, criminal "aliens," a point seconded in the Gaines video. Both Sessions and Gaines are basing this claim on a small handful of tragic cases of deadly violence involving undocumented immigrants.
If you live in the Sacramento region, you know Luis Bracamontes is the undocumented immigrant recently convicted of killing Sacramento sheriff's Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer sheriff's Detective Michael Davis Jr. in 2014. It was a heinous crime that terrorized the region. It shouldn't have happened. Bracamontes shouldn't have been in the country. And the community responded to these killings with an outpouring of empathy for the families of the victims and for their law enforcement colleagues.
Sessions was alluding to such crimes to make a larger point: He is suing California for enacting laws that he claims make California less safe in part because they make it harder for local cops and feds to communicate about undocumented prisoners.
But here is the thing: Bracamontes was not loose on the streets of Sacramento in October 2014 because of a lack of coordination between local cops and the feds. In a 2014 interview with The Bee, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones described Bracamontes as "nothing special" before he proved how evil he really was. Using the parlance of cops, Bracamontes was garden-variety dirt bag. So what did authorities do with him? They deported him twice. He was not coddled by anyone. He came back and killed.
Jones made a video in late 2014 in which he implored then-President Barack Obama to get tougher on criminals like Bracamontes. But as I wrote back then, the feds already are tough. The U.S. Border Patrol is a larger than ever. Undocumented immigrants who are apprehended are removed faster and often without judicial review. The feds spend upward of $18 billion annually on border enforcement, more than all the other law enforcement agencies combined.
In December 2017, the Department of Homeland Security announced that unauthorized border crossings from Mexico to the U.S. were at the lowest point in 46 years.
How can the federal government state that statistic one day and then claim on other days, as Sessions and Gaines did, that we're being overrun by dangerous "criminal aliens"? There is no academic study subjected to peer review that shows undocumented or legal immigrants commit more crimes than U.S. citizens. In fact, what little science there is indicates the opposite.
Again, how can you make a claim of rampant immigrant lawlessness based on a small handful of cases?
Did I want Bracamontes in the country? No. And neither does anyone lobbying for common-sense immigration reform.
So why has California enacted laws that discourage local cops from acting as defacto immigration agents? Because the duly elected officials of California want the feds to enforce immigration laws on their own, without relying on local and state resources. California police chiefs don't want the public to view local cops as Border Patrol agents. Why? Because then potential witnesses stop reporting crimes. Neighborhoods become less safe that way.
A few years ago, Arizona enacted laws — since block by the courts — that would have made it easier for local cops to act in concert with the feds. Back then, conservatives railed against federal courts for blocking those laws. They screamed "states' rights!" Well, all of a sudden, people like Sessions have flipped. Now he cares deeply about federal supremacy.
Because California wants a separation between the state and the feds, Sessions accused Gov. Jerry Brown and others of advocating for "open borders." If Sessions were made of wood, he would be Pinocchio right now. The borders aren't open. The Border Patrol is open for business. Fewer undocumented immigrants are crossing the border than at any time in nearly a half century.
So what exactly are we talking about here? We're talking about spectacle. It's all a show promoted by Trump and Sessions to appeal to the same base that put them in office. It's worth noting that respected legal authorities, such as Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the UC Davis School of Law, have called statements from Sessions' speech "cartoonish."
There is a conversation to be had on many issues relating to immigration. But that conversation will never go anywhere so long as the president, the attorney general and our local legislators are spinning fantasies over facts.