By Raul Pickett
The Tulare County Board of Supervisors recently voted to support the federal government’s suit against the enactment of the State of California’s Values Act (SB 54), which proclaimed the state a sanctuary for immigrants. The supervisors and other local jurisdictions in opposition contend that the Act requires they release dangerous criminal immigrants into the community rather than turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. On its face, their actions might seem rational, but there is much more implicit in the law than they may want you to understand.
Despite antagonism toward the law, it identifies 31 offenses that are exempt, allowing local law enforcement to coordinate with ICE. These exemptions primarily involve violent crimes, including both misdemeanors and felonies. Even more significant, whenever ICE determines that it’s necessary to request a specific action by a local jurisdiction they can also request an order from a federal court.
These provisions are discussed in great detail giving local law enforcement agencies adequate guidance to carry out their intent while assuring the safety of the community. Yet, despite these provisions, local jurisdictions falsely state that law enforcement agencies are significantly constrained, generating fear and resentment in the community.
These agencies also state that its essential to coordinate with the federal government to effectively engage in law enforcement. While this is normally true, coordination shouldn’t circumvent their responsibility to provide for the safety of all sectors of the community.
It’s been reported that in cities where locals have enhanced coordination with ICE, victim crimes have increased 25% due to the fear of residents to report crimes. As elected officials, the board has a responsibility to address the needs of all constituents and not merely to support the anti-immigrant efforts of the Trump administration.
In the San Joaquin Valley, our local economies have always been dependent on immigrant workers to pick our crops, clean our homes, maintain our service industries, care for our children and elderly and, basically, to sustain our economy. Due to this dependency, when there’s been a need, immigration enforcement has been relaxed and thousands have been allowed to migrate into our local communities and throughout the United States.
There is little question that this has always been by design. When the response to local labor demands has lingered, employers have customarily paid thousands of dollars to bring over immigrant workers enticing them with false illusions of stable employment and subsistence for their families.
When we no longer need them, we round them up en masse and forcibly expel them through repatriation or mass deportation. This occurred in the latter half of the 1800s and in the 1930s when 2 million Mexicans were repatriated to Mexico, 60% being American citizens or legal residents. This occurred again in the 1950s under Operation Wetback when 1.5 million Mexicans were deported, many of them legal residents of the United States.
In recent years, even employers in the Midwest and East Coast have benefited from the use of immigrants, paying large head fees to coyotes to transport thousands of immigrants from Mexico and Central America. American employers have profited enormously from Latino workers, especially since they work cheaply, are easily exploited and typically don’t complain.
This arrangement has been lucrative for local business and agriculture because typically they’ve experienced little or no consequences for breaking the law. It’s ironic that if business did not break the law by hiring undocumented workers, we wouldn’t have an immigration problem. Immigrants must often serve as indentured servants until they pay their debt to the employer and are forced to live in the shadows in substandard conditions, victims of persecution and abuse.
Even President Trump used more than 100 undocumented workers on a major construction project and when discovered fought the sanctions and eventually paid a minimal fine. Moreover, President Bush in response to the destructive aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, allowed contractors to hire thousands of undocumented Latino immigrants in the rebuilding of New Orleans. Thus, we have repeatedly made use of immigrants to enrich our local economies while readily discarding them when they lose their value.
Since the last presidential campaign, immigrants have been used as political fodder to generate divisions in our country and promote a false narrative. This hallmark of the Trump administration has bred widespread hatred. It’s in response to our historical exploitation of Latino immigrants that the Values Act was enacted. The legislature acted with foresight in passing the law since history has taught us that we cannot always trust our elected officials to do what is right.
The Obama administration initiated a new enforcement action under “Operation Streamline” where undocumented immigrants were criminalized as they crossed the border. The Trump administration has embraced this strategy, arresting and incarcerating immigrants, taking their children and detaining them in cages while an increasing number of immigrants are being killed at the border by agents. There’s also been a surge in the number being forced into the desert where the death rate has escalated rising above the total American deaths in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under Trump’s enforcement strategy, around 3,000 children were detained by ICE in a six-week period, many lost while their parents were incarcerated or deported without them. We now know that there were no actual records kept to reunite parents and children.
Most recently, when ordered by the court to reunite parents and children, Trump has given the parents an ultimatum requiring that they give up their asylum request or lose their children. It’s becoming increasingly evident that the Trump administration’s policies are callous and racially motivated.
Let’s make it clear, the current antagonism by local officials toward the Values Act represents an orchestrated attempt at setting the groundwork with ICE to carry out a strategy of mass deportation. The Values Act states that “a review of the Department of Homeland Security memoranda reveals that ‘mass deportation’ is the ultimate goal.”
Notably, past mass deportations and or repatriations of Mexicans have been successful because of the careful coordination between ICE and local authorities including county and city governments, social service programs and schools. This is also affirmed in Homeland memoranda, which state that “the cooperation of local law enforcement results in a force multiplier.” This practice is consistent with our state’s history and is evidenced by the fact that 65%–75% of deportations have resulted from cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement.
Any local action to support mass deportation is misdirected, especially when you consider that most cities in Tulare County have a significant number of immigrant residents and any mass expulsion of immigrants would have a devastating impact on the local economy. The Values Act specifies that the law was enacted to prevent mass deportations, separation of families and “ultimately to prevent harm to California’s economy.” This should be the priority of any elected official regardless of party affiliation or cultural bias.
There is little question that President Trump has resurrected a contempt for immigrant groups that has always been a corporate part of our culture as a people. Although our origins are immigrant, we negate any association with the term and reject their innate value to our existence as a country. Our rejection is so fierce that we are increasingly indifferent to the dying of thousands of immigrants in the deserts while water supplies are destroyed by our own border officials, we minimize the taking of children from their parents and their incarceration in cages and blindly support elected officials and citizens supporting President Trump’s strategy of mass deportations as it unfolds in our communities.
Raul Picket is a retired Tulare activist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.