Pandering is no substitute for immigration overhaul

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targets immigration fugitives in Los Angeles in Febrary.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operation targets immigration fugitives in Los Angeles in Febrary. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Having failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Donald Trump and the Republicans who control Washington could, if they were smart, pivot to undertake a sensible overhaul of the nation’s complicated immigration law.

Unfortunately, they haven’t, though Trump is still trying to make California and other states pay for the Republicans’ inability to lead on immigration reform.

Rather than craft thoughtful legislation, the administration has sought to conscript state and local authorities into the president’s crusade to deport undocumented immigrants. It’s legally suspect.

But that didn’t stop U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from pulling a cheap stunt last week intended to ratchet up pressure on locals by issuing what it called a “public safety advisory.” The so-called advisory “will be issued weekly to highlight jurisdictions that choose not to cooperate with ICE detainers or requests for notification, therefore potentially endangering Americans.” The blame-and-shame report has little to do with public safety and everything to do with pandering.

ICE’s report singled out Sacramento and Los Angeles counties along with jurisdictions from Texas to Pennsylvania for resisting the questionable requests to hold inmates beyond their release dates. If Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León has anything to do with it – and he will – the entire state of California could soon be on the list.

California is home to 2.66 million undocumented immigrants, nearly a fourth of the nation’s population of individuals living here without authorization, the Public Policy Institute of California reports.

About 10 percent of California’s workers are undocumented, and 12.3 percent of public school children have a parent who is here illegally. It’s no wonder, then, that many California leaders are resisting Trump as best they can.

No Californian should have any interest in preventing the deportation of undocumented immigrants with felony convictions. But due process must be observed. There is the matter of the 4th Amendment, and the threat of costly lawsuits, as became apparent a few years ago.

In 2014, the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security ended the Secure Communities program. The Homeland Security secretary at the time, Jeh Johnson, said the program discouraged victims and witnesses from coming forward. Courts also found that aspects of it violated the Constitution.

Los Angeles County, for example, paid a $255,000 settlement in a suit by a man who, as a result of the program, was held in jail for 89 days beyond his release date, and Sonoma County paid $8,000 in an unlawful detainer suit.

If we had learned from history, we might not be repeating it. But there’s a new president in town accustomed to getting his way. On Jan. 25, Trump issued Executive Order 13768, reinstating the Secure Communities program, without addressing the very real legal and public safety issues.

ICE officials refused a request by The Sacramento Bee’s editorial board to discuss the issue. But evidently, the agency would prefer to present local authorities with legally suspect detainer orders, not judge-issued warrants requesting that state and local officials hold soon-to-be freed inmates who are subject to deportation.

Aided by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Santa Clara County and other locales including the city of Sacramento have sued to stop the administration’s effort.

De León is pushing Senate Bill 54, which, according to its bill analysis, would bar state and local law enforcement from “performing the functions of an immigration officer, whether formal or informal.”

The bill is a work in progress. But as de León envisions it, the state would provide the feds with a list of all prisoners being freed 60 days before their release date. ICE could cull through the list, identify illegal immigrants, and obtain a court-issued warrant requiring the state to detain them.

The legislation is easy to attack, and plenty of law enforcement officials are doing just that. One critic is Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, who will host acting ICE Director Thomas Homan here on Tuesday.

Sen. Joel Anderson, a San Diego County Republican, is campaigning against de León’s bill, saying that there are no fewer than 11,661 felons in state prisons who are undocumented immigrants. If the state fails to cooperate, Trump threatens to withhold $50.6 million in federal aid to California to cover the cost of incarcerating illegal immigrants.

Anderson warns that if the state refuses to turn over the names of undocumented inmates, ICE agents will fan out into neighborhoods to find them. Such sweeps will scoop up residents who are otherwise law-abiding. Perhaps he is right. But the Trump administration’s deportation efforts already are taking a toll.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said sexual assault and domestic violence reports have plummeted because some residents fear deportation if they interact with cops or testify in court, the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

“Fear is everywhere,” The Bee’s Ryan Lillis and Jose Luis Villegas wrote last week, detailing how deportation worries among farm workers have made it hard for farmers to find laborers to tend to their crops.

California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye has written to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Chief John Kelly urging them to stop sending agents into courthouses in search of illegal immigrants.

None of this would be happening if Washington were doing its job; it’s not.

Like all nations, the United States has a right to control its borders, through legal means. Governing is complicated. It much easier to pander by issuing questionable executive orders and public safety advisories that have little to do with safety and everything to do with politics. Legitimate immigration-related issues facing this nation cannot be solved with bully tactics.