Dan Walters

How far can California go as it becomes immigrant sanctuary?

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is a very vocal member of California’s chorus of complaint about President Donald Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

“I couldn’t be more disappointed that President Trump has used his first budget proposal to prioritize the border wall – his pet project – and a deportation force over critical support for state and local law enforcement,” Feinstein declared in March.

Later, when the Department of Homeland Security laid out a plan to implement his immigration order, Feinstein fumed that was “simply unparalleled in its meanness, scope and most likely its enforceability.”

But 23 years ago, when Feinstein was running for her first full term in the Senate, she was singing a different tune.

Democrat Feinstein’s 1994 campaign aired a television ad, illustrated with shadowy figures, that accused Republican rival Michael Huffington of being soft on illegal immigration.

“While Congressman Huffington voted against new border guards, Dianne Feinstein led the fight to stop illegal immigration,” the ad declared. In her own voice, Feinstein boasted of seeking more border guards, lighting and fencing.

In fact, the border-hardening steps that then-President Bill Clinton took in the mid-1990s with Feinstein’s support foretold the wall that Trump seeks for the entire border. And they were effective, making crossing into California so difficult that the flow shifted eastward into Arizona.

Feinstein was pretty much in synch with California voters in 1994.

They not only re-elected her but passed Proposition 187 to deny public benefits to those in the country illegally, and re-elected Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, a Proposition 187 backer, over Kathleen Brown, Gov. Jerry Brown’s sister.

Feinstein is also pretty much in synch with California voters today, as a new poll by the UC-Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies indicates.

It found that Californians strongly support giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship, oppose Trump’s plans to build a wall, and narrowly favor local communities’ declaring themselves to be sanctuaries and refusing to cooperate with immigration authorities.

The poll was released just hours after Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, threatened “sanctuary cities” with a loss of federal law enforcement funds, which touched off a new round of condemnatory statements from California politicians.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León termed Sessions’ threat “blackmail,” even though the state often threatens financial sanctions on local governments that resist its decrees.

As many as three million Californians could be affected by the crackdown – human beings who overwhelmingly are hard-working, obey California’s laws, and play vital economic roles.

In recent years, California has done just about everything possible to legalize them under state law, including driver’s licenses, college aid, professional and occupational licensing and, in some cases, health care.

Feinstein’s change of sentiment personifies the state’s truly remarkable metamorphosis on immigration – from passing Proposition 187 to vociferous opposition to Trump – in scarcely two decades.

But how far can California go? Ultimately, immigration is a federal matter, and if we posture as a defiant sanctuary for those in the country illegally, such as a pending de León bill would do, the backlash elsewhere could dash any hope of federal immigration reform and thus the pathway to citizenship Californians properly support.

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