None of the candidates running for Governor of California seems capable of speaking honestly to voters about immigration.
That was plainly evident at Tuesday's gubernatorial debate, where Republican candidates lied about immigration and Democrats stumbled and mumbled the same old tired yarns about America being a "nation of immigrants." As usual, Democratic front runner Gavin Newsom got applause for looking and sounding good while dumbing down a complicated issue. Nobody does this better than the 50-year-old lieutenant governor. He has a gift.
“This is the kind of rhetoric that has no place” in the debate," Newsom said while rebuking Republican John Cox, as Cox endorsed President Donald Trump's phony idea of building another border wall to separate the U.S. from Mexico.
"In California, we don’t tolerate diversity, we celebrate it,” he said. The crowd in liberal San Jose went wild as Newsom struck a gallant pose, and like-minded liberals cited this quote on social media, which is precisely what's wrong with this picture.
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Like many other Democrats and Republicans before them, those who aspire to succeed Brown are playing to the extremes of their bases while doing a disservice to the vast middle, some of whom are liberal-leaning people with legitimate concerns about border security and immigration flows. There are also plenty of conservative people who are willing to be reasonable about immigration, but the message they get from candidates such as Newsom is that they are racists if they raise legitimate concerns or questions.
Newsom also had the chance to blow up a terribly manipulative and intellectually dishonest immigration point raised by Republican Travis Allen, who tried to score political points by invoking the 2015 shooting death of 32-year-old Kate Steinle in San Francisco by Jose Ines Garcia, an undocumented immigrant. That case gained national attention after Steinle was struck by a bullet in the back while walking along Pier 14 with her father, who helplessly watched her die. This horrific case was seized upon by Trump and then again by Allen as a supposed example of how our lives are endangered by "open borders."
Except that the border between Mexico and California is not open. One terrible case and a handful of others do not add up to rampant danger on every street, and in every city, as Allen and Cox would suggest. But what is most galling here is that Newsom could have nailed Allen but didn't. Being from San Francisco, Newsom could have told the audience that the Steinle case was a tragic anomaly. He could have said that that Garcia wouldn't have even been on the streets to find a gun left unsecured by a law enforcement officer if federal immigration officials had done their jobs.
Trump, Allen and others blame California's "sanctuary" policies for Garcia being on the streets, but that's a lie. If the feds had been so concerned about Garcia in the first place, they could have obtained a court order to hold him in custody and San Francisco officials would have been bound to comply. They didn't, probably because Garcia had no violent crimes in his past.
Newsom said Allen was shameful in using a dead woman to further his cause, and he was. But Newsom fumbled the ball by only calling the Steinle case "complicated." Yeah, dude. It is complicated. People are looking to you to explain to them why they should not be enraged about this case. Doesn't Trump have a point about building a wall at the border? Doesn't he have a point about "sanctuary" policies being dangerous to citizens?
When Newsom said that Allen was "offensive to politicize a tragic death" he was really saying nothing at all. Leadership is about persuasion, especially on hard issues. Newsom and the other Democrats seemed too scared to take on this issue live, with the cameras on. Nobody looked good, especially the front runner, who has a better sense of what happened in San Francisco during the Steinle case.
Newsom came across like a lightweight playing it safe. He could have said: Kate Steinle did not die because of any "sanctuary" policy. He could have said, and should have said, that the word "sanctuary" is actually a misnomer. The California Values Act, which went into effect on Jan. 1, is actually not about sanctuary at all.
It's about making sure that federal immigration laws are enforced by federal immigration officers without enlisting local and state cops as de-facto deputies or without tapping into local and state funds to enforce federal laws
That's it. California is not preventing federal immigration authorities from interrogating people, arresting people or deporting people. What the California legislature did under Brown's signature was draw a distinct line between what the feds do and what state and local officials do. Local and state officials can still notify the feds about undocumented immigrants if those immigrants have committed violent crimes. The feds can still interview people in custody, local cops can still participate in joint task forces with the federal immigration authorities, and California law enforcement agencies can still share their databases with the feds.
What the California Values Act prohibits is state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police, from using money and personnel to investigate or detain people for immigration enforcement purposes. Why do this? Because in some other states, local cops work hand-in-hand with the feds, blurring the lines between local and federal law enforcement. In Pennsylvania, in the year since Trump was elected, local cops helped the feds arrest more undocumented immigrants without criminal records than any other region in the country, according to a report by Pro Publica, published last month with the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"Using tactics that raise legal questions about racial profiling and unlawful arrest, local police and state troopers have stopped Hispanic drivers, questioned them and their passengers about their immigration status, and then detained them without warrants for up to four hours until (Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents) arrived, records and interviews show," according to the Pro Publica story.
California officials don't want local cops to become ICE agents as they are in Pennsylvania and other states. They want them to be local cops. Newsom and other Democrats could have said that Tuesday night, and by doing so, they could have made Cox and Allen seem even more extreme and out of touch. They could have assured voters with immigration concerns that they don't disregard the mission of federal immigration authorities. They could have said California doesn't want to harbor criminals, they just want the feds to do their jobs and let local cops do theirs.
That's the reasonable truth about immigration in California, it's just a shame that the Democrats – led by Newsom – shrunk in the moment when the truth needed to be heard.