Editorial: It’s one thing to oppose Trump’s policies. It’s another to undercut the law

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf speaks at a news conference on May 13, 2016.
(Ben Margot / Associated Press)

The Trump presidency has, to put it mildly, challenged conventional norms of American society and governance. The president’s intemperate tweets, irresponsible actions and extreme policy pronouncements have raised the hackles of pretty much everybody left of center, and a fair share of those on the other side. They also have engendered a broad backlash — a vaguely defined “resistance” — that has been trying to find its footing in the months since the inauguration. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t.

Which bring us to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who last weekend issued a public statement, based on “multiple credible sources” she didn’t identify, that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were about to stage raids in the Bay Area. Her heart may have been in the right place in seeking to warn those at risk of incarceration and possible deportation. But some of those targeted by ICE agents could very well have been people with violent criminal pasts who can make no legitimate argument for avoiding deportation. And regardless, tipping off her community that immigration officers were about to enforce duly adopted federal immigration laws crosses a line that ought not to be crossed.

Nations have a right to protect their borders and set rules about who may come into the country.

We agree that state and local officials should not involve themselves in enforcing federal immigration laws. The role of state, county and local police is to enforce criminal laws and protect communities. It works against that mission for them to be viewed by members of immigrant communities as just another arm of immigration enforcement. As a society, we need everyone, regardless of legal status, to report crimes, stand as witnesses when necessary and otherwise engage in the criminal justice system as warranted. But local officials should not actively impede or interfere with immigration enforcement for the same reason they should not aid in rounding up the undocumented — it’s not their responsibility. Further, if we want people to engage with the legal system, trying to subvert lawful enforcement of immigration codes sends the opposite message. Local subversion of federal rules would be justified in only the most dire circumstances.


In a related vein, Los Angeles labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, who is running to succeed Democrat Kevin de León in the state Senate representing parts of Los Angeles, has posted campaign billboards declaring, “Disobey Trump.” But it’s not clear what that means. Disobey in what way? Defy federal law? Certainly there are Trump policies — OK, nearly all of his policies — that deserve strong political opposition and pushback, but it’s dangerous ground to declare that because one disagrees with a federal (or even state) law that it should be disobeyed.

There are, of course, laws that must be opposed and, yes, disobeyed, because they are morally repugnant. The Fugitive Slave Act, which required non-slave states to cooperative with slave-catchers seeking runaways, was one, as noted by Harold Meyerson on The Times’ op-ed page Thursday. Jim Crow laws that undercut the fundamental rights and liberties of African Americans are also examples (such as the ordinance that required blacks to sit at the back of the buses in Montgomery, Ala.). But the federal immigration codes the resisters oppose aren’t inherently inhumane or morally repugnant, despite the Trump administration’s enforcement policies. Nations have a right to protect their borders and set rules about who may come into the country.

To press the point further, were the president to live up to his own promise to “take care of” those covered by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by reviving the protections, would the resisters say no, just because the initiative came from Trump? If Trump were to overrule Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and restore the now-shrunken borders of the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, would the resisters reject the new boundaries? There is more than semantics at work here. By all means, fight Trump at the polls and in the courts with every legal tool at hand, but to advocate disobeying properly enacted laws and regulations is more likely to make the situation worse than better.

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