By Alex Emslie
As the 2012 election season begins to roar, battle lines are appearing around one of this nation’s most misleading and entrenched third rails: immigration, and the dangerous rhetoric from the federal to the local level is becoming as frightening as it is sickening.
In his May 10 address on immigration reform, President Obama announced his support for a resurrected DREAM Act, which would provide a path to legal citizenship for undocumented youth, while his administration is presiding over the greatest number of deportations since Dwight Eisenhower’s Operation Wetback in the 1950s.
The politics aren’t those of a man ushering in an era of hope and change for the undocumented workers who have become the backbone of the U.S. economy, they are election season politics.
Obama is attempting to prove his toughness on illegal immigration by deporting more than 800,000 undocumented immigrants under the legally dubious Secure Communities program.
Meanwhile, the cost to both our undocumented-dependent economy and our humanity is becoming too much to bear.
A recent report by the Center for American Progress and the Immigration Policy Institute in Washington D.C. illustrates this state’s economy is highly dependent on undocumented immigrants.
They make up 9 percent of California’s workforce and contribute more than $1.5 billion to the state’s gross domestic product. Undocumented labor and spending supports more than 3.5 million jobs and generates $26 billion in taxes every year. Deport all the undocumented workers, and those numbers drop to zero.
Providing a path to legal citizenship for California’s estimated 2.7 million undocumented workers would create 633,000 jobs, grow the state’s economy by almost $27 billion and increase tax revenue by $5.3 billion.
But there is a long-standing conservative ploy that casts undocumented families as murderous criminals or economic leaches who “take our jobs.” California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, introduced a bill in April modeled after Arizona’s controversial law that allows local law enforcement to racially profile suspected undocumented immigrants.
Donnelly’s bill was a bad joke that died quickly in committee, but it’s worth noting that the dangerous and dimwitted “blame immigrants” sentiment is alive and kicking in California.
It’s a sentiment the San Francisco Chronicle feels no shame in printing, and the editors of token conservative columnist Debra Saunders don’t let pesky facts get in the way of her malevolent analysis. Saunders wrote in her column “Secure Communities meets with strange resistance” that the program is one “liberals should love.”
But Secure Communities, which mandates that local law enforcement send finger prints and names of those they apprehend to the feds, violates the 10th Amendment by forcing police to enforce federal immigration laws.
The program shirks due process, punishing people who have not been convicted of crimes. Furthermore, it strains local resources by requiring city jails to hold immigrants for minor violations like traffic infractions until ICE can deport them.
“Fear not,” Saunders wrote that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano assured the Chronicle. “The feds consider ‘the immigration status of the alien, the severity of the crime and the alien’s criminal history’ in deciding what action will follow,” Saunders wrote.
But 68 percent of the people deported under Secure Communities were charged with only minor infractions or none at all, according to ICE’s own statistics. If Saunders was a journalist instead of a mere conservative mouthpiece, maybe she would have checked the statistics instead of just taking Napolitano on her word.
“ICE is knowingly lying about how Secure Communities works,” said Angela Chan, a San Francisco police commissioner and longtime immigration attorney.
By turning local law enforcement into immigration cops, local police are forced to sabotage vital connections with the communities they serve.
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessy declared that beginning June 1 he will no longer comply with ICE holds on those booked for minor offences.
“ICE is doing terrible things with lies and doublespeak,” Chan said, “and Hennessy is standing up for truth and community policing.”
Despite Saunders’ irresponsible columns, there is some positive local news concerning immigrant rights. On May 10, Mayor Ed Lee reversed most of former mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2008 shredding of San Francisco’s “sanctuary city” policy. Lee’s new policy will forgo the reporting of juveniles arrested on felony charges to ICE, provided they have family ties in the Bay Area, are in school and have no criminal history.
Newsom directed the Juvenile Justice Department to report all arrests to ICE following the brutal murders of Tony Bologna and his two sons in 2008.
Ramos straw man
Edwin Ramos, the undocumented Salvadorian immigrant charged with the Bologna’s murders, is commonly held up as the immigrant bogeyman we should all fear and deport. With Ramos’ trial scheduled to begin in June, the rhetoric is sure to worsen in the coming months
Ramos’ name invariably comes up when San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy is criticized, but the facts of the case rarely do.
Saunders ends her recent column with a reference to Ramos which is out of context. In a 2008 column, shortly after Bologna’s killing, Saunders more accurately describes that Ramos should have been held and prosecuted for being in possession of a firearm linked to multiple murders.
The decision not to prosecute, made by then District Attorney Kamala Harris, had nothing to do with sanctuary city or Secure Communities.
Arguing that our public safety should rely on federal deportations is every bit as ridiculous as arguing that local cops should burden themselves with federal law enforcement.
As the election season gains momentum, and the anti-immigrant rhetoric gets worse, remember who grows, transports and prepares your food. Remember who builds your house, manufactures your goods and cares for your children when you’re at work.
Remember the deficit and the terrible state of California schools. Remember laid off police at departments overburdened by Secure Communities. Remember that we are a nation of immigrants, and ningún ser humano es ilegal.