California Turns Law Enforcement Upside Down
In the 1997 police drama “Cop Land,” Harvey Keitel’s character says, “And these men, to make a living, they cross that bridge everyday to a place where everything is upside down. Where the cop is the perp, and the perp is the victim.”
The line works on two levels. The first is that Keitel was playing a corrupt NYPD detective. Second, it was ahead of its time: Two decades later, California itself resembles that description, as new state laws and a recent warning from Attorney General Xavier Becerra make clear. State authorities are vowing not only to protect and promote the interests of illegal immigrants, but also to actually prosecute legal citizens of America who assist federal agents in enforcing immigration law. When a state official threatens to punish honest citizens for cooperating with the Immigration and Custom Enforcement agents, then everything is truly “upside down.”
Thankfully, the head of ICE, Acting Director Tom Homan, balks at this nonsense from Becerra and Gov. Jerry Brown. "If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities,” he declared, “then ICE will.”
President Trump triumphed in 2016 largely on a platform of regaining control of our immigration system, arguing persuasively that a porous border and widespread tolerance of illegal migrants jeopardizes both our national and economic security. Toward that latter point, AG Becerra should consider the plight of working-class citizens he’s supposed to serve. California, a state of immense overall wealth, has become a difficult place to get a perch on the American Dream. The factors are no secret: a high cost of living driven by mind-boggling housing price and high taxes, and stagnant wages depressed at least in part by labor force competition from illegal workers. Heritage Foundation economist Wendell Cox explained that California “middle-income households have been forced to accept lower standards of living.”
Who benefits from tolerating mass illegal immigrants? Sacramento politicians crassly believe they’re currying favor with Latino voters by obstructing Trump. Let’s start with California’s wealthy elites, who occupy amazing real estate on the Pacific coast while enjoying the spoils of cheap labor and millions of working-class people struggle. This helps explain why California has, by one U.S. Census Bureau metric, the highest actual poverty rate in America. Most Americans would likely guess that dubious distinction would belong to Mississippi or West Virginia, but for millions of people, the Golden State has become a “Paradise Lost,” a land spoiled by counterproductive government policies.
Aside from the affront of threatening honest citizens who assist law enforcement, Becerra also violates federal law and the Constitutional rights of Californians. As much as I respect federalism, only Washington, D.C., controls our immigration statutes, not the states. In addition, precluding citizens from cooperating with federal agents violates the First Amendment right to free speech. Any citizen is free, under our Bill of Rights, to speak or not speak with authorities (unless they’re under subpoena). The states may not, per the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, curtail those rights via state laws.
As a Latino and an immigrant son, I celebrate the centuries of progress in America made possible by countless legal immigrants building the cultural vitality and economic prosperity of our great nation. In recent decades, our immigration model has become badly broken, especially in California, where 55 percent of immigrant households receive public assistance. In addition to securing our border and moving toward merit-based legal immigrant screening, better enforcement represents a pillar of protecting the safety and success of American citizens first. Grandstanding politicians like Xavier Becerra pursue their own narrow political agenda, without regard for the well-being of federal agents, the citizens of California, or our sacred Constitution.