SAN DIEGO -- When we argue about California’s so-called “sanctuary state” law, we might as well be arguing about unicorns.
Just as there is no such thing as a one-horned fantastical creature, so too is there no sanctuary for illegal immigrants in California.
It’s a blatant lie that, as Trump administration officials claim, California is preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement from rounding up and removing illegal immigrants in the Golden State through “laws designed to protect criminal aliens.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
Every day, ICE agents are doing just that -- including in “sanctuary cities” such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. In fact, to punish California, the Trump administration is ratcheting up deportations there.
So much for sanctuary. California’s protective barrier around illegal immigrants is made of cotton candy.
Or maybe swiss cheese. After all, Senate Bill 54 -- referred to as the “sanctuary state” bill -- is full of holes. Make that loopholes that allow for business as usual. They were put there by Democratic lawmakers to assuage concerns by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown that the bill as originally written went too far in restricting cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents.
For instance, illegal immigrants whose names appear on criminal warrants had better not get used to California sunshine. They’re probably not staying. The law allows for a lot of cooperation where they’re concerned.
The truth about these phony “sanctuary” laws has been slow to come out.
That is why there is so much of value in the recent decision by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez. He refused a request by the Trump administration to stop California from preventing local law enforcement from cooperating with immigration agents. The administration argued before the court that California’s law prevented immigration enforcement.
Hogwash, said Mendez, who noted: “Refusing to help is not the same as impeding. ... Standing aside does not equate to standing in the way.”
What Mendez grasped, and a lot of people miss, is that local and state police are supposed to be neutral when their federal counterparts enforce immigration law. They shouldn’t thwart it, or help it along. In fact, they should not be meddling in that line of work at all.
After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the jurisdictions became way too cozy with one another. First, ICE agents started visiting county jails to randomly fish for illegal immigrants without warrants. Soon thereafter, they were riding along with local cops and had their own desks in squad rooms; they would approach suspects brought in for minor offenses and apprehend them before they had even been booked and fingerprinted.
There needed to be re-alignment. And that’s just what SB 54 tried to do by putting some restrictions -- albeit meager ones -- on the degree to which local and state police could help federal immigration agents do their jobs.
Bravo to Mendez for cutting through the politics and seeing SB 54 for what it really is -- and what it isn’t.
It is a toothless distraction that raises the hopes of some and the hackles of others, a trap set by Democrats that Republicans are gullible enough to fall into.
It is not an attempt to block the Trump administration from enforcing immigration law. “Immigrants subject to removal remain subject to removal,” wrote Mendez.
As the judge noted, any helping hand offered by local and state police up to now was strictly voluntary, an act of professional courtesy. It can be withdrawn at any time.
This whole exercise of pretending to offer sanctuary is pointless. Uncle Sam doesn’t take orders from state legislatures. He never has. See: The Civil War.
And he won’t be scared off by symbolic declarations intended to advance the narrative that the Democratic Party is more progressive on immigration than the GOP.
Truth is, Democrats have been a mixed bag on immigration dating back at least to 1986. That’s when 8 Democratic senators and 61 Democratic House members voted against the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized nearly 3 million immigrants.
When, in 2017, they passed SB 54, loopholes and all, Democrats perpetrated a massive fraud on Californians.
They also misled the undocumented into thinking that they could come to California and live happily ever after.
Not so. Illegal immigrants probably figured out that they had been conned right about the time that they were being loaded onto ICE buses destined for the U.S.-Mexico border. Many were separated from their families.
You see, while so-called “sanctuary” laws are mostly make-believe, the pain that can come from believing in them is very real.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.