What next for Cal­i­for­nia af­ter its sanc­tu­ary de­fi­ance?

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - OPINION -

So Cal­i­for­nia has de­clared it­self to be a sanc­tu­ary for those who have en­tered the na­tion il­le­gally.

“This ac­tion pro­tects pub­lic safety and en­sures hard­work­ing peo­ple who con­trib­ute to our state are re­spected,” Gov. Jerry Brown said as he signed a pack­age of bills aimed at pro­tect­ing at least 2 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents from be­ing de­tained and, per­haps, ex­pelled.

It’s Cal­i­for­nia’s most dra­matic “re­sis­tance” to Pres­i­dent Trump, at least so far, and seems des­tined to pro­voke his ad­min­is­tra­tion, par­tic­u­larly At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, into a con­fronta­tion.

Af­ter Brown signed the bills, Trump’s top im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial, Tom Ho­man, de­clared that Sen­ate Bill 54, the cen­ter­piece mea­sure, un­der­mines pub­lic safety and “the gover­nor is sim­ply wrong when he claims oth­er­wise.”

SB54 “will in­evitably re­sult in ad­di­tional col­lat­eral ar­rests, in­stead of fo­cus­ing on ar­rests at jails and pris­ons where trans­fers are safer for ICE of­fi­cers and the com­mu­nity,” warned Ho­man, act­ing di­rec­tor of Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment.

Although Brown in­sisted on changes in SB54 to en­large the num­ber of crimes mer­it­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion ac­tion, Ho­man’s po­si­tion is bol­stered by the state’s sher­iffs.

“Although we ap­pre­ci­ate the gover­nor’s ef­forts to mit­i­gate the most dan­ger­ous pro­vi­sions of SB54, we are dis­cour­aged that this prob­lem­atic bill has been signed into law,” the Cal­i­for­nia State Sher­iffs As­so­ci­a­tion’s pres­i­dent, Bill Brown, said, cit­ing se­ri­ous crimes whose per­pe­tra­tors will be pro­tected.

Were fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties to ig­nore Cal­i­for­nia’s new sanc­tu­ary laws, it’s dif­fi­cult to say how the state would re­spond, or what the out­come would be. At the very least, there would be lit­i­ga­tion.

At its heart, the con­flict is over whether one state can, in some man­ner, su­per­sede fed­eral author­ity on an is­sue — im­mi­gra­tion — that is clearly in the fed­eral purview. Can Cal­i­for­nia, in ef­fect, quasi-le­gal­ize those who en­tered the coun­try il­le­gally?

Even­tu­ally, the fed­eral courts will have the last word — un­less, of course, Con­gress and Trump do some­thing that should have been done years ago: en­act com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form that would give oth­er­wise law-abid­ing im­mi­grants a path­way to le­gal sta­tus and/or cit­i­zen­ship.

Democrats could have done it when they con­trolled Con­gress and the White House but didn’t. A cynic would say that they pre­ferred to keep the is­sue alive for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses, such as or­ga­niz­ing Lati­nos as a po­lit­i­cal bloc. But what­ever the rea­son, they did not fol­low through on prom­ises to act.

Repub­li­cans could do it now, but a cynic would say they don’t want to do it be­cause il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion is a mo­ti­vat­ing is­sue for their po­lit­i­cal base and they don’t want 11 mil­lion new vot­ers who would cer­tainly lean Demo­cratic.

The most op­ti­mistic view is that Cal­i­for­nia’s new sanc­tu­ary laws and the emo­tional angst over un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who were brought into the coun­try as chil­dren might gen­er­ate enough move­ment to make some­thing hap­pen — a grand bar­gain to make il­le­gal en­try more dif­fi­cult, but pro­tect those chil­dren and their fam­i­lies from de­por­ta­tion and of­fer a path­way of some kind to oth­ers.

The most pes­simistic is that Cal­i­for­nia’s go-it-alone po­si­tion will en­tice a tougher re­sponse from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and harden op­po­si­tion to im­mi­gra­tion re­form in the rest of the na­tion.

The is­sue has fes­tered much too long, not only to the detri­ment of the un­doc­u­mented, but to so­ci­ety as a whole. Cal­i­for­nia is par­tic­u­larly de­pen­dent on im­mi­grant work­ers for its mul­ti­fac­eted econ­omy and la­bor short­ages in agri­cul­ture, construction and other fields at­test to how the threats of de­por­ta­tion have re­ver­ber­ated.

Enough is enough.

Dan Wal­ters is a columnist for CAL­mat­ters, a pub­lic in­ter­est jour­nal­ism ven­ture com­mit­ted to ex­plain­ing how Cal­i­for­nia’s state Capi­tol works and why it mat­ters. For more sto­ries by Dan Wal­ters, go to cal­mat­ters.org/com­men­tary

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