The debate over immigration reform, during the past week, exploded in Riverside County.
A decision by the Hemet City Council to endorse a hotly disputed and constitutionally defective Arizona law triggered other Inland Empire and Southwest Riverside cities to join the bandwagon.
Practicing immigration law in Riverside County, I’m glad immigration reform has become a leading issue. It’s long overdue.
But I’m disappointed at the negative twist it has taken.
In my view, June 22, 2010 was a dark day in the history of Riverside County.
The City Councils of Hemet and Lake Elsinore, two cities in Southwest Riverside, took stands in favor of Arizona SB 1070, a law which has the potential to lead to racial profiling of Hispanics and Latinos.
More Inland Empire cities are scheduled to consider like-minded measures in the coming weeks.
Although the legal effect of the Hemet and Lake Elsinore votes were largely symbolic, the social impact casts a far wider net.
Thus, the obvious questions is, “Why?”
After the City Council hearing in Hemet, local immigration clients asked me, “Why Hemet?”
Similarly, clients living in Lake Elsinore asked, “Why Lake Elsinore?”
In other words, why would cities in Riverside County take a public position on the Arizona law?
Since Riverside County is 5 – 6 hours from the Arizona border, it takes a far stretch of the imagination to assert there exists a connection between the two distinct geographical areas.
As an Hemet immigration lawyer, I attended the Hemet City Council meeting on June 22, 2010. I briefly stated my opposition. The mayor allowed me the customary three minutes.
After he shut off my microphone, he personally attacked my position. He would not allow me to respond.
I was the only speaker he confronted.
Hardly fair play. Certainly, not civic diplomacy.
Yet, that’s how much of the debate over SB 1070 and immigration reform has been going.
Shut down pro-immigration reform advocates from speaking out. Turn off our microphones so we cannot discuss important facts both sides should know.
As a deportation defense lawyer, I am accustomed to and welcome debate on immigration issues. But the dialogue ought to be rational and genuine.
Unfortunately, many who oppose immigration reform belittle certain cultures with insults, swaying from the spirit of clean discussion, point and counter point.
Southwest Riverside News Response
A few days later, a local online news organization, the Southwest Riverside News Network, asked me if I would like to respond. I agreed to write a guest article to state my misgivings about the City Council’s action.
I expanded on the reasons for my opposition to the City Council actions which I had expressed in an earlier blog post on the Hemet City Council actions, as well as in my short three-minute presentation.
My position is reprinted below.
Hemet City Council Just Made A Bad Decision, For Many Reasons
1. The violent crime situation in Arizona is vastly different than in Hemet.
Arizona is a border state. It has suffered some casualties in its border areas due to drug trafficking. Hemet, on the other hand, is located about 150 miles away from the nearest Mexico-United States border. It has not experienced any problems related to drug cartels from abroad.
When Hemet Mayor Eric McBride brought the proposal to a study session, he noted his primary concern was violent crime spreading across the border into the United States. He cited a kidnapping in the City of Monterey, not any incidents in Hemet. Monterey is located 400 miles away from Hemet.
To the extent violent crime has taken place in Hemet, the culprits have been members of white supremacist groups. Last time I heard, these groups weren’t accepting applications from Hispanics or Latinos.
2. It is not clear if Arizona SB 1070 will ever be implemented.
At least eight separate lawsuits have been filed against the State of Arizona. The federal government is also expected to soon file a legal challenge. The challenges ask for a stay on enforcement. This means SB 1070 will not go into effect in the near future. It may never go into effect.
Many SB 1070 supporters make fun of Hispanic opponents, and assert the opponents rest their arguments on race considerations.
The challenges are based on the Constitution, though some pertain to protections against racial discrimination. These challenges are not frivolous; they have not been filed by lightweight attorneys. The lawsuits center on serious defects with the law.
3. The Hemet City Council’s action demonstrates poor decision-making.
But the main point, in terms of the Hemet City Council, is not whether the Arizona bill will pass constitutional scrutiny. Rather, the issue is much simpler. As a matter of public policy, supporting a controversial law which might never be upheld is not a good idea.
True professionals put aside their personal views for the public good. As elected leaders, the City Council should avoid creating divisions between its citizenry – unless this is the last and only option. Their role is to build bridges, develop consensus, and inspire a heightened sense of community.
In a recent interview, Hemet Lt. Duane Wisehart noted the City Council’s approval of a resolution supporting Arizona’s immigration law SB 1070 was merely “symbolic.” He added the net effect of the Council’s action may make some residents less likely to ask for help or to report a crime.
That’s the rub.
If the approval of the resolution does not change policy, yet worsens the relationship between a community and its police department, why approve it?
This is one of the main reasons why the majority of police chiefs and sheriffs in Arizona oppose 1070. They’ve publicly stated the loss of community support will make their jobs harder, not easier.
If the mayor’s true concerns were to combat crime, the better approach is to put together a coalition of the entire community, including ethnic minorities, to study the issue and come back with a comprehensive set of solutions. Arizona’s crime problems are not the same as Hemet’s crime problems, and a local solution is far more sensible.
So this leaves a person to question the Mayor’s – and to a slightly lesser extent, the entire City Council’s – true intentions. The only plausible explanation, from my viewpoint, is political ambition. The issue brings a lot of attention to the mayor throughout the Inland Empire. For someone with political aspirations, this type of high profile issue is tailor made for political exploitation.
4. By supporting a law which confuses immigration reform with criminal and drug-related activities, the City Council widened the gap between various ethnic communities in Hemet.
Perhaps more than any other aspect, the failure to distinguish two separate issues causes Hispanic communities to question the true intentions behind SB 1070. Not all undocumented border crossers are drug dealers or people who commit violent crime.
The issues surrounding undocumented immigrants are complex. 50% of those called “illegals” entered the country legally. Most have a spouse, child, parent, or relative who are lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens. Many have been waiting over 10 years for their green card interviews. Most opponents do not hear this information, instead blindly claiming all “illegals” are the same.
In reality, only a small percentage of immigrants are drug dealers or guilty of violent crimes. This is not the imagery or language used by most SB 1070 proponents. They chose instead to highlight negative, tasteless, and mean-spirited images of Hispanics crossing the Arizona border.
Then these images are juxtaposed to images of real criminals, real wrong doers, real bad dudes.
Immigrants crossing the border, seeking nothing more than a hard day’s wages for a hard day’s work, are transformed into evil villains wreaking havoc on American society.
It’s no different in Hemet. The day after I opposed the mayor’s idea, his supporters resorted to name-calling of all Mexican residents. I received telephone calls from folks who felt the need to share a few personal insults about me and my family members. Of course, I had never met the callers. My opposition was enough evidence for them to judge my character.
Given such insults, can there be any doubt why many, Hispanics and non-Hispanics, feel the law is anti-Latino measure?
The City Council’s resolution widens this social divide.
5. The resolution endorsed by the Council was based on their misunderstanding of SB 1070.
At the June 22, 2010 meeting, one of the proposal’s supporters told the audience he doubted any of them had read SB 1070. He should have included the City Council.
He said the law contained no racial provisions.
Well, he was correct . . . sort of.
Laws which are facially neutral can still be implemented or enforced in a discriminatory way. To say otherwise is intellectually disingenuous. Ethnic minority communities have long had strained relationships with law enforcement due to incidents involving racial discrimination or racial profiling.
When this history is coupled with the negative rhetoric and degrading imagery used by SB 1070 supporters, it’s easy to understand the fears of Hispanics. They perceive the law – or more precisely, its’ likely implementation – as not just anti-immigrant, but also anti-brown skin.
There is one provision of SB 1070 which most overlook. It may be facially neutral. Yet, its possible manipulation would cause major adverse consequences.
I call it the vigilante provision.
Under this provision, Arizona citizens can sue to compel police agencies to obey the law. In addition, no city or agency can formulate a policy which directs it workers to ignore the law. If a court determines an agency has violated the law, it will be forced to pay up to $5,000 for every day it failed to follow the law.
In practical terms, it means that one group of citizens can sue police officers for not pulling over individuals whom they, not the police, believe has been involved in criminal activity.
This provision strikes fear in the hearts of not just Hispanics, but also police departments throughout Arizona.
By supporting the Arizona proposal, the City Council supported citizen vigilantism.
As a lawyer, I learned long ago that just because one reads the law, it does not make that person an instant expert. Most laws are not easy to comprehend. Thus, I wonder if the one speaker who claimed to have read SB 1070 understood what her read.
I wonder, too, if the City Council understands SB 1070.
Their comments for supporting the mayor’s proposal strayed far from the topic. One council person, for example, talked about how his neighbor’s business had gone kaput in this economy. Another rambled about a nearby school district’s food program.
Actually, such off-target remarks makes me wonder if the Council even took the time to read SB 1070 before voting for the mayor’s proposal.
Sadly, I’ve learned that far too many opponents of reasonable immigration reform don’t care about reasonableness.
They view the world through a very narrow us-versus-them framework. They are not open to new information, however factual, which doesn’t fit into their shallow world views.
I’ve tried to share my insights with my opponents. In return, I receive race-based and hateful insults.
Still, I’ll keep trying.
I have immigration law offices in San Bernardino, as well as Riverside, and I’m willing to share my knowledge on immigration issues with any of my Inland Empire opponents who live in nearby areas.
In the meantime, maybe the Hemet City Council will accept my invitation to debate in a public forum.
By Carlos Batara, Immigration Law, Policy, And Politics