SAN DIEGO – Thanks to a bill recently signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, California is now officially a “sanctuary state.”
Big deal. If you take a close look at the actual language of SB 54, also known as the California Values Act, you’ll see it for what it is: a symbolic and worthless gesture intended to inflame both sides of the immigration debate without upsetting the apple cart.
This law is about politics, not police work. Democrats get to fool Latinos and immigration advocates into thinking they have their back, when – the truth is – that’s where they often stick the knife. Republicans get to advance the narrative that the opposing party is soft on immigration enforcement, when – the truth is – it’s the GOP that goes soft when that enforcement is aimed at the employers who are the root of the problem.
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The California measure preserves the law enforcement status quo. Although it originally intended to limit cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), there will be plenty of room for partnerships.
For instance, ICE still has access to county jails, and it can still get a heads-up from local officials when someone is released from custody – if that person has committed certain crimes or if ICE has a warrant.
This was predictable. After all, local police chiefs and county sheriffs have to contend with something that their federal brethren get to avoid – public accountability. They have no interest in allowing dangerous people to roam their streets in search of new victims. People get fired over things like that.
Meanwhile, ICE is tied up in political double-talk. Acting Director Thomas Homan says the new law will keep his agents from doing their jobs. Of course, Homan is also at the moment launching a crackdown on illegal immigrants in California, a state that allows his agents to do their jobs.
So it’s certainly not the case that illegal immigrants should try to seek refuge in the Golden State, unless they intend to spend their golden years back in their home country after they get deported. Think of it this way. In California, the word “sanctuary” is Latin for “Your bus is waiting.”
The few modifications under the law merely roll back some of the encroachments that federal immigration agents have made on local police and sheriff’s departments since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. These opposing jurisdictions are supposed to operate separately, and they have been way too cozy for way too long.
Incidentally, the relationship is dysfunctional and rife with inconsistencies.
On the one hand, federal agents have never respected local cops, or seen them as their equals. On the other, that doesn’t stop them from letting lowly local cops do their work for them, so the G-Men (and G-Women) can sit around, drink coffee and brag about their pensions.
The sheriff’s deputies who run the jails complained that they’ll alert ICE when they’re releasing a prisoner who might be in the country illegally, and that – if he’s a low-level offender – they won’t get a response. And then if that person commits a crime that gets media attention, ICE – which specializes in CYA – will blame the local officials.
So will the California sanctuary law make things better or worse? It’s not likely to have much of an effect either way.
The media says that this is because fierce opposition from police and sheriff’s groups forced lawmakers to negotiate and add a series of amendments that allow for some cooperation.
Could be. The author of the bill is state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, a Democrat who recently announced that he is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein. I’m sure that de Leon didn’t want to kick off his campaign by alienating law enforcement.
But the real reason for the amendments goes back to Gov. Brown, who is pure politics and who – like Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama before him – has no interest in being caricatured as a Democrat who is soft on immigration. He threatened to veto the bill if he didn’t get the amendments, and he won that showdown.
Emphasis on “show.” After all, California – home to Hollywood – is the grand factory of make-believe. So naturally, in the sanctuary debate, the focus is on theater. And nothing is what it seems.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.