So President Trump on Thursday essentially told every law-enforcement agency in California that were it not for the presence of federal immigration and border agents, they “would see crime like no one's ever seen crime in this country.”
Really. Of course, whether Trump believes that or was just blowing his usual smoke is impossible to know.
But it’s remarkable that the president of the United States could delude himself that the nearly 80,000 law enforcement officers in California would just be overwhelmed by crime if a few thousand Immigration and Customs Enforcement and border patrol agents suddenly moved to Arizona.
So which is it, punish California with more agents, or fewer?
Let’s go with fewer. It would reduce the level of fear in our immigrant neighborhoods and among the American children and partners of otherwise law-abiding folks wondering if they’ll be the next ones to be swept into the immigration detention system.
If Trump did withdraw his immigration and border agents, California might conceivably wind up with more immigrants living here without the federal government’s permission, but that doesn’t mean that crime would worsen. In fact, things might improve. Numerous studies show that immigrants — no matter their legal status — commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans.
So if Trump does tell “ICE and Border Patrol, let California alone,” as he phrased it, the pressure would be off immigrant communities, likely improving the reporting and prosecution of crimes among people who commit fewer of them.
And maybe they’d have a little breathing room until Congress gets around to adopting humane comprehensive immigration reform.
Trump framed his little diatribe within the context of the MS-13 street gang, which he said “actually have franchises going to Los Angeles,” missing the history of the gang.
It began here in Los Angeles among people fleeing the 1980s Salvadoran civil war (in which the U.S. backed one of the factions), and then flourished in El Salvador when Los Angeles-based members were deported.
Its expansive presence and power is one of the most destabilizing forces in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, and a major factor in the decision by young Central Americans to flee north.
While gangs, particularly MS-13, are an issue in Los Angeles and elsewhere, Trump’s modus operandi here is to use the specter of bad guys and violence as a reason to shut the borders, particularly to people of color from what he calls “shithole countries.”
California has been right to delineate a sharp line between its responsibility to maintain public safety and enforce local and state laws, and the federal government’s responsibility to enforce civil immigration laws.
If the president thinks that means he ought to pull his immigration agents, well, that’s a punishment California can probably weather.