Almost two hours is a long time to try to have a conversation with hundreds of irate people who are calling you a liar, comparing you to Adolf Hitler, and generally telling you to die and go to hell.
So when Tuesday’s public forum on immigration mercifully came to a close, I can’t blame the acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, for making a beeline to the back door of the Sacramento County Youth Gym, a contingent of beefy, scowling men right behind him.
It was a predictably unceremonious ousting from one of the most diverse and most liberal cities in the country. Sacramento showed up and showed out.
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But Sheriff Scott Jones, who invited Homan and whose department allows ICE agents into its Sacramento County jails, had a quizzically different take on the whole affair.
“It went pretty well,” he told a gaggle of Bee reporters, surveying the empty seats in the gym as angry chants of “no ban, no wall” continued unabated outside.
Jones tried to explain:
“The intent of this (forum) was not to get everyone on the same page. My goal was to get information out, and and I think that had tremendous value.”
I’m not convinced.
Whatever Jones thought he accomplished on Tuesday night, the spectacle inside that gym didn’t help anyone understand how his deputies work with federal immigration authorities. Nor did it clear up anything about the supposed dangers of sanctuary cities, of which California has plenty, even though only a slim majority of voters support them, according to a new Berkeley IGS Poll.
Part of the problem is most of the people who came to the forum did so to protest, not to listen. But even those who came to listen were skeptical of anything Homan had to say about ICE prioritizing immigrants with criminal histories and not conducting raids in neighborhoods. Assertions from Jones about keeping Sacramento County safe from criminals also fell on deaf ears.
Can you really blame them?
President Donald Trump has systematically ruined any chance for a calm, rational debate about immigration policy. Starting on the campaign trail and continuing into the Oval Office, his rants about creating a “deportation force” and about undocumented immigrants being “rapists” and “criminals” have completely undercut the credibility of ICE.
It also doesn’t help that his administration has expanded the pool of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, and that the president himself has been wishy-washy about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and tried several times to ban people from Muslims-dominated countries.
Jones and Homan might indeed, as they both insisted, have empathy for the families of those who get deported. But that message gets trumped by the rhetoric, misinformation and vague threats coming out of the president’s administration.
So what we’re left with is distrust and rage.
Before the forum even started, hundreds of protesters had gathered outside to shout with signs that declared: “We don’t trust ICE” and “We don’t trust Scott Jones.” A defiant Mayor Darrell Steinberg riled up the crowd even further, shouting: “Here in Sacramento, we support one another, we don’t deport one another!”
Once the doors to the gym opened, protesters piled inside and quickly filled as many open seats as they could.
Of course, Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, who represents Los Angeles, was among the skeptics.
The author of Senate Bill 54, which would prohibit local and state police from cooperating with federal immigration authorities, de León waited in line to tell Jones and Homan that “the edicts of the president and ICE” will make California’s communities more dangerous.
That was right after Bernard Marks, a Holocaust survivor who was imprisoned at Auschwitz, pointedly told Jones that “history is not on your side.”
At every opportunity, the protesters yelled and booed and cursed over Jones and Homan. So much so that several ended up getting escorted out, including a black man who, as officers surrounded him, made a point of shouting: “I am not resisting. I want y’all to know I practice peaceful protest.” He got yanked outside anyway, not that his removal was much of a deterrent to others inside.
Jones seemed unfazed by it all. He mused over the hashtag that protesters were using for him: #ICEcoldsheriff.
“That’s pretty clever,” he said with a self-deprecating smile.