The California Influencer Series

Keep fighting or fold to Trump? California leaders split on sanctuary state

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The California Influencers Series

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Dan Schnur, a veteran analyst and longtime participant in California politics, is director of the California Influencers series for The Sacramento Bee and McClatchy.

The war over California’s sanctuary state policy, which limits local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials, has been waged for months in the state Legislature and the halls of Congress, on the campaign trail and in the courts.

With no end to the argument in sight, the question from one of The Bee’s readers offered through Your Voice was straightforward, yet laced with exasperation:

Would California simply be better off abandoning its sanctuary state policy and simply cooperating with the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement measures?

Most of The Bee’s California Influencers, a group of the state’s most respected experts in public policy, politics and government, weighed in strongly against the premise of the reader’s question, arguing that California should continue to resist President Trump’s immigration agenda on multiple fronts.

“If history has taught us anything…it is more important to stand for what is right today than to apologize for our intentional unwillingness to act against wrong tomorrow,” said Chet Hewitt, president of Sierra Health Foundation. “California’s sanctuary state posture is our collective voice of opposition and humanity in a time when a lot more of both are desperately needed.

“We need to demonstrate our commitment to protecting all of our residents,” agreed Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation.

Although the majority of Influencers supported the sanctuary policy, their reaction was far from unanimous.

“Our Constitution is very clear about federal jurisdiction regarding immigration,” said former Republican National Committee member Linda Ackerman, now the president of the Marian Bergeson Excellence in Public Service series. “A uniform policy prevents the chaos that would certainly prevail if each state had the power to establish its own immigration policies.”

University of California President Janet Napolitano, who was appointed as Secretary of Homeland Security by President Barack Obama, interpreted the relationship between state and federal government differently than Ackerman.

“The so-called sanctuary laws already contain some important exceptions where public safety is concerned,” said Napolitano, who also served six years as the governor of Arizona. “They simply prioritize how the state’s law enforcement resources will be used, leaving it to the feds to carry out immigration enforcement, which is inherently a federal issue. It is entirely appropriate for California to stand up for itself here.”

University of Southern California Professor Manuel Pastor, who analyzes California’s cultural, political and demographic trends in his new book, “State of Resistance,” focused on the public safety impact of the policy.

“(S)eparating immigrant enforcement from local law enforcement enhances public safety by encouraging residents to trust the police,” Pastor said. “With evidence also demonstrating that immigrant commit fewer not more crimes, the policy is right on values, right on politics, and right on logic,” he said.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen also highlighted the overriding public safety questions, but arrived at a much different conclusion.

“California should not provide a safe harbor for people who commit crimes – whether those people are in our state legally or illegally,” said Olsen, a former Republican State Assembly leader. “The sanctuary state policy has done nothing other than to polarize people even further and contribute to the delays in passing substantive reform at the federal level.”

Longtime Republican strategist Rob Stutzman, who served as a senior adviser to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, criticized both the Trump Administration’s immigration agenda, which he called “a policy and moral failure” and the state’s sanctuary policy, which he warned “…encourages resistance to federal immigration enforcement and … doesn’t solve anything long term.”

Other Influencers decried the heavily partisan tone of the debate, and suggested that both sides were being driven primarily for political gain in the run-up to this fall’s key midterm elections.

“Sanctuary policies at the state and local level are political statements and not policy solutions,” said Republican consultant Mike Madrid, who advised Antonio Villaraigosa in this spring’s gubernatorial campaign. “Our focus should remain on comprehensive immigration reform and avoid devolving the debate into emotionally charged platitudes that only exacerbate racial tensions and provide no meaningful solutions.”

Maria Mejia, Los Angeles director for the Gen Next, a young professionals’ organization that advocates for policy reform, took the argument a step further, excoriating partisans in both parties for scoring political points while real-world suffering continued.

“The debate around California’s sanctuary status is not about reform, and almost pure political posturing by lawmakers in their attempt to one up one another,” said Mejia. “The immigrant, the dreamer and the migrant child are mere pawns in our own ridiculous fight.”

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