The following will be the Sentinel Editorial for Thursday, May 12, 2011
The Santa Cruz City Council raised more than a few eyebrows locally Tuesday night by something they decided not to do.
By a 4-3 vote, a council majority declined to support state legislation that would allow local communities out of a federal immigration program that critics say is a smokescreen for deporting undocumented people.
The vote marks one of the few times in recent years a Santa Cruz council has declined to weigh in on an issue outside their jurisdiction — but, in this case, the decision was entirely sensible.
The bill, AB 1081 sponsored by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiamo, would allow counties to opt out of Secure Communities, which sends the fingerprints of all inmates booked into local jails and cross-checked with the FBI’s criminal database to Immigration and Customs Enforcement so the person can be screened for immigration status. Nearly half of those deported have no criminal convictions.
The council voted down a resolution to direct the county Sheriff’s Office, which runs the local jail, not to detain people on Secure Communities immigration holds, unless they were suspected of serious crimes. After council members Ryan Coonerty, Hilary Bryan, Lynn Robinson and David Terrazas said they didn’t think the city should tell the sheriff not to comply with a federal program, the four also voted down a subsequent measure to only express support for AB 1081.
Bryant’s rationale was correct — more piecemeal resolutions and end arounds only blur the necessity of reforms in federal immigration policy.
On that front, President Barack Obama was in El Paso, Texas, Tuesday, along the border with Mexico, to call out Republicans for blocking immigration reform.
While Obama’s remarks were criticized as pandering to Hispanic voters in advance of his reelection campaign — the president didn’t propose any actual legislative reforms — that doesn’t mean this highly flammable political and human rights issue can be ignored.
We can’t forget 2007, when a bipartisan immigration overhaul looked like it would be enacted — until conservative Republicans, advocating increased enforcement, joined talk-show hosts in mobilizing opposition that killed the Senate bill.
The lack of reform legislation also is spurring renewed efforts by Senate Democrats in Congress to get the DREAM Act passed. The act gives undocumented students a chance to become legal citizens if they came to the U.S. as children, are long-term U.S. residents, demonstrate good moral character and complete two years of college or military service in good standing.
Meanwhile, more than 400,000 people were deported last year for lack of proper documentation and businesses have been targeted for employing illegal immigrants. Nearly a dozen states are debating bills to create their own laws about illegal workers — and that doesn’t count Arizona’s controversial law that requires individuals to show proof they’re in this country legally.
The United States is a nation of immigrants — but our government can’t seem to find the courage and compassion to provide a clear path to residency for the vast majority of people who come to this country to work our farms, clean our houses, mow our lawns and cook our meals. That’s why local communities and states are taking up reforms, however piecemeal and misguided.