Images, stories and now recordings of children yanked from their mamis and papis at the U.S.-Mexico border, then placed in tent cities and former Walmarts, have gone viral. They have shown the world the cruelty of the Trump administration, and an America that nowadays takes the world’s huddled masses yearning to be free … and holds them inside cages indefinitely.
But this isn’t a new story to us in California. Activists here have protested such separations for years; they don’t just happen at the border, after all. Such separations were at the heart of the outrage that led the state Legislature to turn us into a “sanctuary state” at the beginning of 2018. Sacramento understood what the Trump administration doesn’t: Splitting up families is not just inhumane and immoral, it devastates communities and hearkens back to some of America’s darkest moments.
Politicians nationwide, including Georgia Congressman John Lewis and Texas senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke, have slapped back at President Trump and U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, who claim they’re just doing what the majority of Americans want them to do, a sentiment emphasized whenever the government does something ghastly, whether it was slavery or Japanese internment. So it’s time for California to show further leadership on the issue of protecting people who are in the county illegally from the feds. Our sanctuary state law only solved half the problem. We must do something even more drastic: Deport la migra from California.
This isn’t as wild a proposal as it appears.
La migra, for my purposes here, is a term that encompasses the separate agencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Border Patrol, because they’re just two sides of the same ugly coin. Just by the raw numbers, their work has been a colossal failure in California. They let transnational cartels drown us in drugs to the point that we had to legalize marijuana to get a handle on the craziness. International sex trafficking rings remain an epidemic; invasive species and pests keep trickling in from across the globe.
And immigrants crossing the border illegally? La migra historically has been as successful at stopping them as Clayton Kershaw has been at shutting down opponents during the playoffs.
La migra has succeeded at only one thing: terrorizing millions of Californians for nearly a century. Their first job was to keep out the Chinese who were fleeing massacres during the Mexican Revolution. In the 1930s, migra shipped off families — some of them American citizens — back to Mexico in railroad cars; in one notorious case, they deported en masse a community of over 400 Mexicans who lived on the former Bastanchury Ranch in Fullerton.
Agents rounded up immigrants as if they were cattle for Operation Wetback during the 1950s. They persecuted religious activists who offered sanctuary to Central American refugees in houses of worship during the 1980s. And now they arrest parents at schools and homes, in front of their children, with impunity.
Fear of them is so hardwired into the California Latino mind that a popular schoolyard game is called “La Migra.” Teams split into agents and immigrants, someone shouts “La migra!” at the top of their lungs, and agents chase the immigrants. It’s a game I played nearly 35 years ago, and that my friends’ children still play.
Knowing it’s under attack by California, but has the blessings of the president, la migra is now ratcheting up its actions in the state. In March, two undocumented immigrants died in a car crash in Delano because they were trying to evade migra agents — who were looking for someone else. This paper recently reported that federal immigration authorities are breaking longstanding protocols by deporting people with a warrant out for their arrest instead of turning them over to law enforcement for criminal prosecution. (Go ask Central America how cavalierly deporting gang members worked out there.)
That’s why California should act now.
We have the resources to make migra irrelevant. The California National Guard can check out anyone who wants to come in. Police and sheriff’s deputies can go after people who commit actual crimes in our communities without harassing people who don’t have papers.
Other California government entities have already shown it’s surprisingly easy to undermine migra. Last year, California Labor Commissioner Julie Su told her staff to keep them out of her department’s office because they kept showing up to intimidate people who had filed claims against bad bosses. The Santa Ana City Council also terminated its contract to house their detainees for ICE in the city jail after multiple complaints from residents. In addition to the sanctuary state bill, Gov. Jerry Brown also signed into law rules that severely restrict migra from entering schools and that set aside $10 million so that unaccompanied minors can lawyer up.
And let’s not forget the courageous example of Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who put out the alarm when ICE was preparing raids across her city in February.
But we need more. This includes migra agents, many of whom are Latino. To them, I say this: You are the people who hear the screams of children, who see the tears of parents.