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
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

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
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
, and Sheriff’s Lieutenant Butch
 — 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
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


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