Dear California Legislature: What If I Don’t Want to Live in a “Sanctuary State?”

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I CAN”T STAND the thought that the State of California, where I have spent most of my life living, working, and raising a family, is now a “sanctuary state.”

This week, Governor Jerry Brown “signed landmark “sanctuary state” legislation, vastly limiting who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of federal immigration authorities,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

The newspaper added this:

Senate Bill 54, which takes effect in January, has been hailed as part of a broader effort by majority Democrats in the California Legislature to shield more than 2.3 million immigrants living illegally in the state.

Weeks before Brown’s signature made it law, it was met with swift denunciations from Trump administration officials and became the focus of a national debate over how far states and cities can go to prevent their officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.”

How did California ever get to this?

California, a state that once elected Ronald Reagan to two terms as governor, is now the bluest of blue states — the People’s Republic of California, as some call it.

For a native Californian like me, an Independent voter who considers himself a moderate middle of the roader politically — that’s an endangered species today — the notion that my home state is now officially at odds with the federal government is repugnant.

How did we ever get to this?

It kills me to think that the state’s political leadership believes that it makes good sense to pass a “law” that makes it harder for law enforcement throughout California to cooperate with federal authorities.

And “law” is a good word to emphasize, because in so much of the political BS that surrounds the immigration debate here in the People’s Republic of California, the rule of law — really, respect for the law — has been lost.

A terribly bad law

I know there are “bad” laws, and California has had a boatload of them, but REALLY bad laws, like the Fugitive Slave Act passed by Congress in 1850 that was subsequently upheld by probably the worst U.S. Supreme Court decision ever, only come around about once every 150 years or so.

California’s “Sanctuary state” law falls in that category, and it’s terribly wrongheaded public policy, too.

Here’s how the Los Angeles Times reported it:

In a sharp rebuke to President Trump’s expanded deportation orders, Gov. Jerry Brown signed landmark “sanctuary state” legislation Thursday, vastly limiting who state and local law enforcement agencies can hold, question and transfer at the request of federal immigration authorities.

Senate Bill 54, which takes effect in January, has been hailed as part of a broader effort by majority Democrats in the California Legislature to shield more than 2.3 million immigrants living illegally in the state. Weeks before Brown’s signature made it law, it was met with swift denunciations from Trump administration officials and became the focus of a national debate over how far states and cities can go to prevent their officers from enforcing federal immigration laws.”

3 issues at the root of the sanctuary problem

At the root of the California sanctuary movement are three huge issues:

  1. The total inability of Congress to push through any kind of immigration reform.
  2. The state of California’s excessive and over the top pandering to illegal immigrants by offering an ever expanding amount of benefits and other goodies that have simply encouraged more to come here illegally, and,
  3. The relentless push by illegal immigration and open border advocates to eliminate the important distinction between legal and illegal immigration.

America has ALWAYS been a nation of immigrants and we are better off because of that. But no nation can survive with open borders and uncontrolled numbers of people coming, and staying, illegally.

That begs the question — if you can get all the rights of being a citizen without having to go through the hard work of becoming one, doesn’t that discourage people from becoming Americans in the first place? It’s a big problem because what has truly made America great is the notion that immigrants come to the United States for a better life AND to become Americans.

The problem, however, is how much we ignore the fact that when they choose to not enter the country legally, they’re already committing a crime and showing a lack of respect for the rule of law.

The mitigating factor, many would say, is that we have encouraged these people to come here by easily allowing them to slip into jobs that Americans simply don’t want to do.

We did that a lot in California, where they pick fruit in our fields, wash our cars, take care of our lawns, tend to our homes, and do all sorts of low pay work that’s often gritty and hard. We encouraged them to come here because we needed them, and their presence has been a part of California all of my life.

The solution? REAL immigration reform

In my book, we need immigration reform to settle this issue once and for all.

But, many people rightly point out that the last time we did immigration reform — 30 years ago and signed by President Reagan — it didn’t work out so well. Here’s how The Washington Post described it:

The last time Congress enacted sweeping immigration reform was back in 1986. That bill, signed by Ronald Reagan, looked a lot like the proposals being put forward today. There was a path to citizenship for existing illegal immigrants, coupled with tighter border enforcement.

There was just one problem — the 1986 reform didn’t work. The law was supposed to put a stop to illegal immigration into the United States once and for all. Instead, the exact opposite happened. The number of unauthorized immigrants living in the country soared, from an estimated 5 million in 1986 to 11.1 million today.”

The Post story digs into all the reasons for “why” the 1986 immigration reform failed, but the lack of strong employer sanctions were a large part of the problem, as was the lack of funding from Congress for better border enforcement.

Those are still big problems today, and it’s why President Trump is so infatuated with his “Wall.” It speaks to a lot of people who feel that strong border enforcement is critical if we’re ever going to fix our immigration problem.

Does California really want to fix our immigration problem?

However, one could make a good case that California doesn’t really want the federal government to fix our immigration problems. In fact, the actions of the Legislature and the Governor today all seem to flow from the passage of Proposition 187 by California voters in 1994. Then Governor Pete Wilson pushed hard for the ballot initiative that would have made “immigrants residing in the country without legal permission ineligible for public benefits.”

Prop. 187 was thrown out by the courts, but the damage was done. It inflamed the state’s Latino community, became the rallying cry against Republican leadership, and led to where we are 20 plus years later — with the state GOP in shambles,  Democrats controlling every single statewide office, a super majority of the Legislature, and both seats in the U.S. Senate.

Oh, and it also led to a never-ending set of policies that gave undocumented people living here illegally everything from driver’s licenses to health care to sanctuary from the Feds — “unprecedented rights, benefits, (and) protections,” as the LA Times put it.

If immigration reform in 1986 actually helped drive more illegal immigration, it also made California the poster child for how a state could implement policies that expanded and built on the shortcomings of the federal law.

I thought we had a chance at real immigration reform back in 2007 with the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill. It wasn’t perfect, but I felt it had a lot of promise because it was nuanced and understood that we couldn’t just put everyone here illegally on the path to citizenship. And, it had some hurdles that many of our undocumented immigrants would have had to navigate to get themselves on the right track.

One would think that a bill that was pushed by Republican John McCain and Democrat Ted Kennedy — an unlikely pairing of senators, to be sure — would have a good chance to succeed, but by that point immigration was a political football that far too many in Congress just wanted to kick somewhere else.

Congress has caused our “sanctuary” crisis

When the McCain-Kennedy bill died in Congress, The New York Times noted succinctly what continues to be true today: “The vote reflected the degree to which Congress and the nation are polarized over the issue of immigration.

Yes, immigration has always been terribly polarizing in America, and as Wikipedia noted, “Attitudes towards new immigrants have cycled between favorable and hostile since the 1790s.” But I don’t believe it has ever been as polarizing a subject as it is today, and the lack of any national consensus or action by Congress to fix the problem has led the states and local governments to step into the breech.

And THAT’S how we end up with sanctuary cities, and now, even a sanctuary state.

Some will say that Gov. Jerry Brown again played the role of the only real adult in Sacramento by moderating Senate Bill 54 under the threat of his veto. The Sacramento Bee said that,

After publicly questioning the legislation, Brown intervened and demanded a 12-fold increase in the types of prior convictions that exclude immigrants from most protections under the bill – from 65 different serious and violent felonies to over 800 crimes, including some misdemeanors. Brown’s amendments also gave federal immigration agents access to interview immigrants in jails and exempted the California Department of Corrections from the measure, among other major changes.”

Yes, Gov. Brown made the bill a little more tolerable, and hardline Democrats and open border advocates are bitching loudly about that, but in my book, a man who was the the youngest, and now the oldest, as well as the longest serving Governor in California history, simply didn’t do enough.

He should have vetoed Senate Bill 54. Signing it, and making California the first “sanctuary” state, is simply a bridge too far.

Relations between California and the federal government are likely to get a whole lot worse before they get better because of this. The last real populist president — Andrew Jackson, whose portrait hangs on Trump’s Oval Office wall — dealt with this during the nullification crisis in 1832 when South Carolina tried to declare certain federal laws null and void. Jackson threatened to bring in federal troops to enforce federal law, and South Carolina ended up backing down as a result.

This might end very badly for California

California is doing much the same now by declaring that federal efforts to enforce and control U.S. immigration are null and void. And, I fear it will end as badly for California with Trump as it did for South Carolina when they went toe-to-toe with Andrew Jackson.

There was an opinion article in the Sacramento Bee last week by Ben Boychuk that caught my eye with the headline Sanctuary state” isn’t just bad law, it’s lunacy.” Here’s what he wrote that resonated with me:
This is basic civics. We are a nation not just of laws but of borders. We welcome all comers, as long as they adhere to our laws, assimilate to our customs and contribute to our society. California’s elected Democrats advocate lawlessness, yet demand scrupulous adherence to the Constitution when it suits them and their interests. The rule of law demands the Resistance lose.”

The whole notion of resistance, of sanctuary, of telling the federal government they can’t enforce  immigration law in California now because they did it so terribly before, is all wrong-headed. No matter how you feel about Trump, he’s simply doing what a lot of people elected him to do.

We should put this “sanctuary” notion to a vote

The federal government can be exasperating to deal with, but I hate that California and it’s deep blue political leadership seem to want to nullify federal law.

As a native Californian, I also hate that I now live in a “sanctuary state.” Making such a sweeping and far reaching declaration  is not something that should be done without the people weighing in and letting our elected legislators know what WE THE PEOPLE really think.

If Governor Brown had really played his role as the only responsible adult in Sacramento, he would have vetoed this bill and suggested the Legislature put it to a vote instead.

I might not like the result of that vote, but at least I would have felt I had a say in something as consequential as this.

Besides, I have more faith in the people than I do with the yahoos we have playing lawmaker in Sacramento these days. It’s criminal that they did not let voters have a say in this.

I know that many believe that this bill is a worthy thing, another good poke in the eye to President Trump, and that California is doing it’s patriotic duty by leading the “resistance” to him and his administration.

Nothing could be so wrong as that kind of thinking. An irresponsible and short-sighted law like this one just makes me sad and embarrassed to be a Californian.

I would not be surprised if there aren’t a lot of other people up and down the Golden State who really feel that way, too.

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