President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are setting their scopes on California. The latest in an escalating battle between the federal government and California is a lawsuit filed by the Justice Department to strike down three California sanctuary laws.
The laws include making it a crime for business owners to help U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials without a warrant or subpoena (Assembly Bill 450), limiting information sharing between ICE and state and municipal entities (Senate Bill 54) and allowing state officials to monitor and inspect federal immigration detention facilities (Assembly Bill 103).
This lawsuit comes on the heels of the detention of 232 people in an immigration enforcement onslaught across Northern California during a four-day sweep last month. These individuals swept up by ICE are factored into the Trump administration’s plans to deport 6,000 to 10,000 immigrants as part of Operation Mega. This kind of sinister policy calls into question the ethics of the administration. Is this a eugenics experiment?
“It’s not about the truth, it’s not about protecting our state, it’s about dividing America,” responded Gov. Jerry Brown to Sessions’ implication that California was obstructing federal efforts at immigration enforcement. Brown called the lawsuit a “political stunt.”
After Brown signed SB 54 in October last year, which took effect in 2018, enforcement activity has been stepped up in the Golden State. “California better hold on tight,” warned ICE’s acting director Thomas Homan earlier this year in an interview with Fox News.
Those who were detained in this latest enforcement operation weren’t allowed to kiss their kids goodbye, and immigrant rights attorneys were denied access to the detainees. Public Defender Jeff Adachi and Chief Attorney Matt Gonzalez penned a letter to ICE’s chief counsel demanding access to counsel for the unrepresented detainees, as reported by the San Francisco Examiner.
In the meantime, our immigrant friends, co-workers and companions in The City are worried sick about the next dragnet — even if they were spared in this one.
On March 1, ICE issued a mealymouthed statement: “ICE has no choice but to continue to conduct at-large arrests in local neighborhoods and at worksites, which will inevitably result in additional collateral arrests, instead of focusing on arrests at jails and prisons where transfers are safer for ICE officers and the community.”
This kind of vengefulness on the part of the Trump administration is what we have come to expect. There’s no veiling the intent to target our Latino sisters and brothers — to hunt, detain and then put them in the back of a truck.
The Justice Department is also reviewing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s decision to alert the residents of Oakland of an impending enforcement sweep. Inveighing against Schaaf’s humanitarian decision, Homan told Fox News that “being a law enforcement officer is already dangerous enough, but to give the criminals a heads up that we’re coming in the next 24 hours, increases that risk.”
First of all, most immigrants were on their way to work, so the danger element was highly exaggerated. Second, Homan deliberately used the tendentious description of “criminals” to represent all who had been detained; of the 232 swept up to be deported, only half had prior convictions.
Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, called out to America to pay attention to this moment in history at a national media briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services. “What we are seeing is indiscriminate enforcement, the ending of prosecutorial discretion that safeguards individuals from deportation by looking at their equities,” Salas said.
In other words, ICE does not care if the individuals detained are fathers or mothers of young children, or whether they hold jobs that serve the greater community, or whether they are civic-minded individuals or whether they’ve put down several decades of roots in America or even whether they served in the military.
Besides the increased enforcement action against Dreamers, mothers, activists and wage earners, “The administration is also using the immigration process to make it more difficult to access immigration benefits,” said Sameera Hafiz, a senior policy strategist for Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
This is effectively forcing undocumented immigrants to live like ghosts, leaving no record or trace of their actual existence.
The Trump administration is actively marketing the idea that California’s sanctuary laws are a danger to you, to us. With carefully chosen stories to tell the public, misinformation is being liberally disseminated and generalizations of specific stories are becoming normal.
ICE offers up impersonal tales meticulously. There are five examples in their March 1 statement. Here’s one: “In Vallejo, a previously removed citizen of El Salvador, who has multiple criminal convictions for driving under the influence.”
The Trump administration’s Taunt-Terrorize-Detain-Deport-Punish tactics are calculatingly devised to cause long-lasting psychological pandemonium in a blue state.
Local leaders are defiant despite the chaos being fomented. Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted, “Trump and Sessions think they can bully California — but it won’t work.” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg dismissed the threat: “Their legal strategy around these issues has not been impressive, so whatever.”
An administration lacking in kindness and empathy is an administration that will flail sooner or later.
Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.