It’s never easy to make the case for cracking down on illegal immigration. The subject is too fraught with nativist, racist hatred. Too many Americans display naked hostility toward immigrants, who mostly hail from Asia or Latin America but could have been their European great-grandparents coming here to build a new life. When passions run this high, an argument from the middle of the road usually leaves you run over.
So a few caveats are in order.
Immigrants enrich our lives. From H-1B visa recipients who create startups that could become the next Facebook, to the men and women who pick crops and clean toilets, they enhance our national experiment. The Mission district isn’t one of the most interesting few acres on earth by accident, and neither is the Inland Empire, the Afghan and South Asian communities of Fremont, or any Chinatown in any city in America. This country has long failed to implement a rational policy to embrace and regulate the influx of people who come here for the best of reasons.
The appalling, racist practices of people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona must be rejected by every citizen. That such a man has a gun and a badge — and the authority to imprison other human beings — is a source of shame and dishonor for this country. No law enforcement official should be given the latitude granted to him by Maricopa County voters, and no law or policy enacted in California should empower an officer to violate the fundamental rights of anyone, citizen or not.
But Assemblyman Tom Ammiano was wrong when he put forward Assembly Bill 1081, the so-called Trust Act. The bill, which was passed by the state Legislature last week and awaits the governor’s signature, would bar local police officers and county sheriff’s deputies from reporting illegal immigrants they have arrested to federal immigration officials.
Yes, exceptions have been made for immigrants arrested for violent or serious offenses. But this does not mitigate the fact that Ammiano’s bill would order law enforcement officials, with the force of state law, to ignore federal law. Illegal immigration is exactly that — a crime. And Gov. Jerry Brown should respect the rule of law by vetoing the bill.
For years, San Francisco has had an official sanctuary-city policy in which police officers are directed not to go out of their way to report the immigration status of arrestees to federal authorities. This makes all sorts of sense, especially when community police officers are attempting to build rapport in tightly knit immigrant neighborhoods. But advances in technology, particularly information sharing, have precipitated this conflict. It is easier than ever to scan an arrestee’s fingerprints and check his or her immigration status, and President Barack Obama’s administration has requested that local law enforcement agencies do so — but only for people arrested for serious crimes, not minor traffic violations.
With this bill, Ammiano is picking a fight with a federal government that already is trying to apply the law rather judiciously. And he is swimming against the tide of technological progress to boot. He should find another battle to wage, one that doesn’t order police officers to ignore the highest law in the land.