The long-distance spitting match between President Donald Trump’s Republican administration in Washington and California’s Democratic politicians in Sacramento over just about everything is either high drama or low comedy.
The two sides are clearly looking for opportunities to do battle in the media and in the courts, often over the most innocuous ministerial issues. Each is playing to its political base by demonizing the other.
Trump and his minions disparage California as a land of wacky left-leaning politics, embellishing what they hope is a tendency in other states to look upon California as an outlier.
California politicians, meanwhile, depict Trump’s administration and a Republican-controlled Congress as a gang of thugs, seeking to bully an independent state into doing their bidding.
The conflict is especially heated over the fate of several million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have lived and worked in California for decades.
Trump wants a crackdown and his administration has ramped up its arrests of those in the country illegally and demanded that employers, especially those in agriculture, hotels and restaurants, produce records verifying that their workers are legal.
California has responded with legislation that limits law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities and threatens employers with legal sanctions if they don’t, in effect, warn their workers about impending immigration raids.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions popped up in Sacramento recently to announce that he was suing California over its new laws, alleging that they violate the federal government’s authority over immigration matters.
That touched off still another round of rhetorical saber-rattling by the feuding factions.
What both ignore, in their hyperbolic fingerpointing and scapegoating, is that they are having real impacts on the lives of real people.
Undocumented immigrants are living in fear that at any moment, they can be scooped up by immigration agents and banished to their supposed homelands, often stranding their legal spouses and children in California without incomes. It happens every day.
Employers, meanwhile, are being caught in a legal vice, told by the feds that they must cooperate in searches for undocumented workers and by the state that if they do cooperate, they could be prosecuted.
California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said in January that employers who violate the new laws could face prosecution and up to $10,000 in fines.
“We want to protect people’s rights to privacy and protect their ability to go about their business, going to work and feeding their kids,” Becerra said.
The squeeze appears to be the tightest on farmers, who were already facing shortages of labor due to a variety of factors disconnected to the immigration crackdown.
“It’s just this conflict of intention,” Bryan Little, who monitors employment issues for the California Farm Bureau, told the Wall Street Journal. “On the one hand, the federal government is aiming for stringent enforcement, and the state wants to frustrate that. Our members find themselves stuck in the middle.”
The situation is bound to exacerbate the shortages of agricultural labor and thus be a drag on one of the state’s most important export industries.
It’s being felt, too, in other low-wage industries such as restaurants, making employers leery about hiring anyone who can’t prove legal status.
“It’s a bit scary to be caught in the middle of a standoff between the feds and local law enforcement,” California Restaurant Association spokeswoman Sharokina Shams told CALmatters.
Yes it is, but the two sides seem bent on tightening the legal screws until something gives. And what and when that will be is impossible to predict.
Dan Walters is a columnist at CALmatters. Reach him at email@example.com.