SPARE ME: At first I dismissed it as just another campaign-trail brain fart. Then I figured it had to be political code-speak, coyly calculated to curry favor with the anti-immigrant voting bloc. Afterwards Sheriff Jim Anderson assured me at some length it was neither. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it was both. The “it” in question was Anderson’s suggestion at a recent sheriff’s campaign forum that local law enforcement — i.e., sheriff’s deputies and city cops — should be given the legal authority to stop, arrest, and detain foreign nationals solely based on their immigration status. Currently, only agents with the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) — the federal acronym formerly known as the INS — can bust border-jumpers. Anderson explained these new powers might come in handy for local cops trying to keep us safe from terrorists sneaking in from south of the border. Anderson’s remarks — delivered just three days before last Monday’s A Day Without Immigrants march — precipitated a cascade of falling jaws loud enough to wake up those slumbering in the back row.
For the record, what Anderson was suggesting is included in HR 4437, the Republicans’ nasty immigration “reform” bill passed by the House — but blocked by the Senate — that triggered last week’s massive A Day Without Immigrants marches. That’s the same bill that calls for the construction of a 750-mile-long wall along the Mexican/U.S. border. It also makes it a felony to be an illegal immigrant. It’s obvious from the mean-spirited details of the bill that Republicans — in disarray over the war, Katrina, financial scandals, and President Bush’s plummeting popularity — are floundering for an issue that might activate their hardcore base. Since they already beat the gay marriage drum two years ago, they had nothing left but immigrant-bashing. On the subject of immigration, I confess I am hopelessly sentimental. As a rational human being, I recognize the United States lacks the infinite capacity to handle all the misbegotten billions who want to move here. But as the great-great-great-great grandson of illiterate Mick hicks who fled Ireland’s potato famine 160 years ago, I have always thought America’s real greatness lies in its citizens’ willingness to embrace those desperate enough to dream, and even more, those desperate enough to make their dreams come true. Fortunately for the rest of us, most cops need not avail themselves to such misty-eyed romanticism to find fault with Anderson’s suggestion. His three opponents — Lompoc Police Chief Bill Brown, former sheriff Jim Thomas, and Sheriff’s Lieutenant Butch Arnoldi — have all voiced far more pressing reasons why Anderson was blowing smoke out his backside.
As experienced crime-fighters, Anderson’s opponents have learned the hard way that they need the trust of all segments of society if they have any hope of succeeding. If people who are here illegally have reason to worry they’ll be busted for immigration violations, they won’t report crimes and they won’t share information that might help police. Why is that bad for the rest of us? The tips provided by illegal immigrants could well save the lives of people whose ancestors sailed here on the Mayflower. And people who can’t go to the cops for help might be inclined to take matters into their own hands. When that happens, it’s seldom pretty. You’d have thought Anderson would know that. But no, he keeps talking about the terrorists instead.
Most of the terrorists I’ve read about know better than to sneak into the country through Mexico. Why? It’s too dangerous. They might get jumped, ripped off, or murdered. They might be forced to work in semi-slavery as gardeners to pay off their smugglers. And that’s hard work. I’m not saying it can’t or won’t happen. But it makes little sense to throw away the 30 years that law enforcement has spent trying to establish trust with a fearful immigrant community. I’d suggest, however, that Anderson and the frothing anti-immigrant camp recalibrate their focus. Last I looked, the Canadian border was the crossing point of choice for the Big-Bang Jihad crowd. And last I checked, it was the Canadians — not the Mexicans — stealing the sorts of jobs most Americans would want. It’s nice that Neil Young is singing new songs about impeaching our president. Obviously, somebody needs to. But shouldn’t that somebody be an American-born folk singer, not some Canadian? I know other countries play basketball, but let’s face it, it’s our game; we stole it fair and square (from the Canadians, by the way). It doesn’t seem right that a Canadian — Steve Nash — should win the NBA’s MVP honors two years running. William Shatner gave us an icon of everything right with America playing Star Trek’s Commander James T. Kirk with all the comforting patriarchal authority our own leaders so sorely lacked. But it turns out he’s a freaking Canadian! Are we so lacking comedic talent that we need to get our giggles from Mike Myers and Jim Carrey — card-carrying Canadians? Are we so bereft of breasts that we need to fantasize about Pamela Anderson, a transplant implant from up north?
Sheriff Anderson has insisted he’s only exploring the idea of giving local law enforcement immigration-enforcement authority — just floating it out there for public consideration. Politically, Anderson has proven so clumsy that when he dances he steps on his own feet. This is yet another example. Given the sensitivity of the issue you’d think he’d have figured out what he thought on the matter before opening his mouth and freaking people out. Some critics suggest Anderson is desperately trying to cash in on any simmering anti-immigrant backlash. They note how Anderson’s campaign manager — Richard Cochrane — just released the results of a survey that he conducted (what a coincidence), showing that two-thirds of the respondents favor tougher immigration enforcement. But Anderson and Cochrane insist there’s absolutely no connection. Let them. They’d look like nasty schemers if you could prove they were lying. But if they are telling the truth, they’d look like clumsy, incompetent fools. From where I sit, I don’t know which is worse. End of story.
— Nick Welsh