It wasn’t until about 100 years ago that anyone cared who was crossing into California from Mexico, or vice versa. The Border Patrol didn’t exist until zealous teetotalers began worrying about Mexicans sneaking in prohibited hooch in the 1920s.
When farmers needed laborers to pick crops, they recruited Mexicans to come north. In the 1930s, when the state was flooded by 4 million Americans fleeing the Dust Bowl, those farmers more worried more about the “Okies” and “Arkies” than the Mexicans who had been working for them (cheaply) for years. California has been governed by a long list of Spanish and Mexican governors – from Gaspar de Portola to Romualdo Pacheco.
Simply put, Californians aren’t afraid of the immigrants who live and work among us.
When the Legislature and several cities passed sanctuary laws, we considered them symbolic gestures. After all, it isn’t fair to target our neighbors who have been working hard, paying taxes and doing their best to be good Americans.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions is afraid of immigrants. And he’s come to California to make us afraid, too.
Sessions filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal district court trying to pave the way for mass arrests and deportations. He’s doing the bidding of President Donald Trump – who rode to prominence by demonizing immigrants and now is wants to frighten them away.
Sessions told members of the California Peace Officers Association that federal law enforcement officers are being blocked from doing their duty and being endangered by laws passed to “score political points.” Apparently, Sessions sees the Modesto mother suffering from cancer – torn from her three U.S. citizen children – as a danger to federal agents. Perhaps those three men who bought coffee in an Atwater convenience store were planning to throw it on someone. Was that LA father dropping off his kids at school a bad driver?
Sessions even named Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra as defendants in the lawsuit. Does he think they’re frightened?
“This is basically going to war against the state of California, the engine of the American economy,” Brown said later. “It’s not wise, it’s not right and it will not stand.”
California’s laws are not as obstructionist as Trump and Sessions paint them. The Justice Department claims sanctuary laws make it impossible to deport criminals. That’s a lie. Our state is happy to work with ICE to expel immigrant felons.
State law prevents businesses from handing over employee records to ICE without a court order, because some employers cheat workers out of their pay by threatening to call ICE.
Simply put, we don’t trust the Trump administration to prioritize dangerous criminals over decent, productive people who have simply overstayed their visas. Federal law says being in the U.S. without authorization is a civil infraction, not a crime.
It’s not in California’s interest to accept this repugnant view of immigration. An estimated 2.6 million undocumented immigrants live in California, including 10 percent of the state’s work force. About 12 percent of public school children have an undocumented parent. To Californians, these people aren’t “illegals” or “criminals,” they’re neighbors, co-workers, classmates, friends and, sometimes, family.
Legally, pragmatically and morally, California is on the right side of this fight. And fight we will.