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Politics

Capitol Journal: Trump says California is ‘out of control.’ State lawmakers should make sure they don’t prove him right

Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly
Bill O’Reilly interviews President Trump in a pre-Super Bowl broadcast aired on Sunday, Feb. 5.
(Fox News)

President Trump claims California is “out of control.” But does a president who is addicted to wee-hours tweeting even understand the word “control”?

And on matters of common civility, Trump is constantly out of control.

The president’s knock on California, however, is common among political conservatives throughout America.

Referring to California legislation that would make the entire state a “sanctuary” for illegal immigration, Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly: “It’s ridiculous….

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“If we have to, we’ll defund. We give tremendous amounts of money to California. California is in many ways out of control, as you know.”

But Trump would find it very difficult to cut back on significant federal money to California. One, he’d need congressional approval. Two, he’d be handcuffed by court rulings.

All that said, two of the “sanctuary state” bills being rushed through the California Legislature do provide Trump with fodder for his insult.

Not the main sanctuary legislation. That bill by Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using their cops and jails to help enforce federal immigration laws. Roughly 40 cities and counties in California already have similar hands-off provisions.

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One rationale is that if immigrants believe they might be ratted out to federal agents for deportation, they won’t report local crimes and cooperate with police in solving them.

But the most frequently stated rationale for immigration sanctuaries is that the job of state and local law enforcement agencies is to enforce state and local laws. City cops and county sheriffs don’t have the time and money to also enforce federal immigration laws. That’s the job of federal agencies.

Simply put, state and local tax money is spent on enforcing state and local laws. Federal tax money goes to enforcing federal laws. That makes sense. But the logic is contradicted by two other sanctuary bills.

Those bills would use state money to help immigrants defend themselves in federal deportation cases. So on the one hand, it’s wrong to spend state money on enforcing federal law, but it’s right to spend state funds to defend against a federal law.

Democratic legislators are trying to have it both ways. And it doesn’t track. Either it’s OK to use state money in federal cases or it’s not. It shouldn’t hinge on which side you’re on.

One bill, by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego), would create a state program to pay for immigrants’ legal services in deportation proceedings. The money would go to nonprofits to either do the legal work or administer it.

Updates from Sacramento »

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That measure has cleared one Senate committee and is due up in another next week.

A second bill, by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), would provide training in immigration law for county public defenders and private attorneys whose clients are charged with state crimes. That’s so they could advise the defendants on the potential deportation consequences of plea deals.

That measure zipped through an Assembly committee without opposition Tuesday, and it will be heard by another next week.

Neither bill has a price tag yet. But the combined cost for both probably will be in the tens of millions of dollars. And the cost could mushroom if Trump tries to round up all the undocumented immigrants he has hollered and tweeted about.

That raises a question whether the penny-pinching Gov. Jerry Brown would sign either bill. Based on the governor’s history, he’d probably split the baby — signing one and vetoing the other.

Hueso estimates there are currently about 23,000 California immigrants in need of legal help.

County public defenders don’t represent people in federal cases. The feds have their own public defenders, but they’re generally not allowed to participate in immigration proceedings.

So immigrants often don’t have attorneys in deportation cases. Those who do are about five times more likely to be successful than those who don’t, according to the legislation’s sponsors.

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Heather Williams, the federal public defender in Sacramento, strongly supports the legislation.

“These people are entitled to legal representation,” she says. “I’ve seen amazingly wrong things happen in immigration courts.”

Hueso says his father, who migrated here from Mexico, was twice wrongly deported even after becoming a U.S. citizen.

“He had to suffer through indignities and lost his job,” the senator says. “That’s continuing to happen today. Someone can’t get a fair trial without legal representation.”

Bonta issued a statement saying his bill represents “California’s values of inclusion, compassion and justice” and is a key weapon in the state’s “fight against the reckless and hate-fueled Trump agenda.”

That kind of comment really riles Trump supporters, a loud lot even if they were outnumbered in California nearly 2 to 1 by Hillary Clinton voters in November.

“If the state wants to declare itself a sanctuary state, there’s not much I can do about it,” says Patrick Dorinson, a conservative talk radio host who has worked for both the Democratic and Republican parties. “But I get very upset when the state wants to spend tax dollars on illegals’ legal bills.”

The money should be spent on fixing roads and paying down public pension debt, he says, adding: “That’s my personal tax dollars…. And it doesn’t make the rest of the country feel warm and fuzzy about California.”

Yes, Democratic legislators should exercise self-control over how they spend the taxpayers’ money — and make sure they don’t prove Trump right.

george.skelton@latimes.com

Follow @LATimesSkelton on Twitter

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