PD Editorial: Immigration suit fans flames of culture wars

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks Wednesday at a law enforcement conference in Sacramento. (RICH PEDRONCELLI / Associated Press)


In one of his first acts as president, Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

The threat of sanctions hasn’t deterred hundreds of cities, counties and states from California to Florida from limiting their participation in enforcement of federal immigration laws.

And the Trump administration has had little success in its attempts to impose any sanctions, just as it has been unable to force Mexico to pay for a wall along the border.

When it comes to dreamers, the young immigrants who were brought here as children, we can barely keep up with the president’s many positions.

After ordering an end to a program that allows them to stay, he urged Congress to renew it, then imposed conditions that ensured its failure. His demands didn’t muster even 40 votes in a GOP-controlled Senate.

What is consistent is Trump’s bullying of immigrants.

So is the administration’s stubborn refusal to distinguish between dangerous criminals and millions of people who contribute to our economy and culture despite entering the U.S. without papers or staying after their visas expired — which is a civil, but not a criminal, violation.

That’s a primary reason why California and other jurisdictions are limiting their cooperating with ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

With a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday, followed by Attorney General Jeff Session’s harshly partisan speech Wednesday in Sacramento, the administration clearly is spoiling for a fight with California.

The lawsuit, which accuses California of unconstitutionally interfering with immigration enforcement, is hardly a surprise, though two weeks ago Trump mused about pulling ICE agents out of the state.

That came with a veiled insult for California law enforcement. Without ICE, he said, “you would have a crime mess like you’ve never seen in California.” He predicted that California would “beg” for ICE to return. On Wednesday, Sessions reversed course, trying to position the lawsuit as protection for local law enforcement.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s blunt reply: “What Jeff Sessions said is simply not true.”

For starters, California cannot stop federal agents from enforcing federal laws. Ongoing ICE arrests and business audits show that the state hasn’t blocked enforcement. Moreover, as Sessions no doubt knows, most California law enforcement agencies have long avoided participating in immigration enforcement, except in the pursuit of felons and violent criminals.

For some agencies, these policies date to the 1970s — and with good reason. Police need witnesses and victims to step forward and cooperate. They may not if police ask about their immigration status.

SB 54, one of three state laws targeted in the federal lawsuit, codified common practices and court rulings.

Despite Sessions’ claims, the law doesn’t prohibit California law enforcement officers from working with ICE agents, it doesn’t prohibit ICE agents from entering state prisons or local jails, and it doesn’t prohibit correctional agencies from turning serious offenders over for deportation. SB 54 does make it harder for the feds to expand their dragnet while sending the bill to state taxpayers.

The other laws targeted by Sessions subject ICE’s privately run detention centers to state inspection and prohibit employers from turning records over to ICE without a court order. Why? The centers are notorious for inhumane conditions, and some unscrupulous employers have called immigration to try to avoid paying employees.

It could be awhile before this case is settled, but Trump’s success rate in court hasn’t been very good. There’s no reason to believe that’s going to change.

Where Trump has thrived has been in fanning partisan and cultural flames. This lawsuit is more fuel for the fire.