California is about to become a so-called sanctuary state. What does that mean?
It means California will refuse to help federal agents deport people who came here illegally but are staying out of trouble and contributing positively to the state.
But it means ratting out the bad guys to the feds — the convicted robbers, killers, drug traders and other assorted criminals.
"If you're a violent felon, we don't want you in this country," says state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). "Whether you're from Ireland or Korea, it doesn't make any difference."
Most of us, however, would like to do more than merely boot violent felons back to their native lands. We'd also like to send packing thieves, narcotics peddlers and a lot of other scum.
That was achieved in the sanctuary state compromise forced by Gov. Jerry Brown in negotiations with De León. Brown, as usual, was treading a narrow middle course.
The governor told NBC's "Meet the Press" in August that "we want to be very understanding of people who have come to our state, have worked in our economy often for decades, picking our food, working in our restaurants, working in our high-tech industry…"
But, he added, "You do have people who are not here legally. They've committed crimes. They have no business in the United States in the manner in which they've come and conducted themselves subsequently."
So the compromise on De León's bill, SB 54, basically is this: Leave the good ones alone. Help kick out the bums.
What's not to like, unless you're among the small minority of Californians who insist on rounding up all 2.6 million undocumented immigrants living in the state — about one-fourth of the U.S. total — and hauling them back across the border.
Many of these hard-liners conveniently ignore the reality that if their ancestors had needed legal documents, they'd today be living in Europe. Actually, many of the Latino immigrants have deeper roots in America than these nativists.
There has always been a lot of emotion wrapped around any immigration legislation.
The sanctuary state bill is very reflective of the fright and hatred created by President Trump in California, especially among Latinos.
"If Trump hadn't won the presidency, there'd be no need for this measure," De León told me. "There has to be a firewall to protect our state. We're directly saying to the federal government that 'you're not going to take mothers from their children, and fathers from their children.' "
The California public seems to agree with that concept. In a January poll, the Public Policy Institute of California found that 85% of the state's residents believe undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country legally. Moreover, 65% favored the state and local governments setting their own policies to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants.
That public attitude is why roughly 40 California sanctuary cities and counties, including Los Angeles, already refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agents, at least to some extent. The De León bill would make that statewide policy.
The basic tenet is this: State and local tax money should be used to enforce state and local laws. It shouldn't be used to help the feds enforce their immigration laws.
Sure, a lot of this is political. Democrats are waving the party flag and trying to persuade young Latino citizens to vote. Latinos have been growing in numbers, but their voter turnouts are pathetically low.
But it's also personal for Latino politicians. Many tell stories of their parents or grandparents migrating here illegally, working hard, dodging the feds and creating the American Dream for their children.
De León's mother migrated to San Diego illegally and cleaned wealthy people's homes to scrape by. De León often rode the bus with her to work.
The Senate leader's bill also reflects one other factor: the failure of any president or Congress in 30 years to enact immigration reform. Too many politicians have been playing to the extremists on both sides.
De León's original bill would have forbidden state prison officials and local jailers from notifying the feds about the pending release of an inmate here illegally unless he'd been convicted of a "violent" or "serious" felony. But that excluded a bunch of crimes. There was a big squawk among law enforcement.
The Brown-De León compromise adds those other crimes to the list allowing immigration officials to be notified — crimes such as sexual abuse, repeated drunk driving, assault, burglary, possession of an illegal firearm, drug dealing and much more.
In addition, the compromise allows immigration officials to interview undocumented inmates in jail. They can dig into law enforcement databases. And state prisons are exempted from the bill.
The measure still must pass the Legislature before it adjourns for the year Friday. And it will.
The California Police Chiefs Assn. has dropped its opposition and is neutral. The California State Sheriff's Assn. is still opposed.
"The reality is it's probably three-fourths of a loaf, and we're grateful for that," says Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown, president of the group. "We're very grateful for the governor. We salute him for his willingness to put his foot down and listen to us…
"But there still are too many loopholes. And it doesn't cover lots of misdemeanor crimes that are serious."
It's a good compromise, however — especially for about 2.6 million law-abiding undocumented immigrants.
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