A Civic Immigration Scapegoat--Again

Isn't this beginning to sound familiar in Orange County? A city becomes frustrated when its municipal services become overburdened. Then it reaches the conclusion that illegal immigrants are becoming such a problem that it must deputize itself to assume the task of stemming the tide.

It happened recently in Costa Mesa, where efforts by the City Council to enlist local charities in the cause of immigration control brought confusion and embarrassment to almost everyone from City Hall to Washington.

Recently, Santa Ana's own architects of foreign policy emerged with a report urging local police to "gain control over the expanding illegal immigrant population in the city" by working more closely with federal immigration authorities.

From its title, you might think that the Mayor's Task Force on Neighborhood Standards and Preservation, the group issuing the report, had as its goal the protection of some local architectural and civic landmarks. But the 16-member panel had a more jingoistic message for the City Council, to which it delivered its findings. There were, it said, five key issues for the 1990s: neighborhood overcrowding, the impact of the non-English-speaking immigrant population, crime and gang activity, traffic congestion and the environment.

The report essentially laid these problems at the doorstep of illegal immigration--which in turn opened a hornet's nest of protest from the Latino community and civil rights activists.

The report complained that schools are overcrowded and negatively affected by illegal immigration. Its solution was a knee-jerk reaction, just as Costa Mesa's was. It suggested that the Police Department increase cooperation with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to enforce existing laws, and to reduce the number of undocumented people settling in Santa Ana.

The director of a local Latino-rights group cut through the euphemisms to outline the report's true message: "Conduct raids to reduce the number of immigrants in Santa Ana." To his credit, Police Chief Paul M. Walters said that his department already cooperates with the INS in arrests of illegal immigrants who have committed crimes but that it will continue a policy of not cooperating with INS agents on periodic neighborhood sweeps.

What's really wrong in the picture is that immigration problems have to be controlled at the border, and cities should not be in the business of playing U.S. immigration authorities.

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