Opting Out of Fear and Division

From Dana Gill Port, True North Leader and United Methodist Pastor

One of the things that many of us hate about national politics is the constant use of “Wedge Issues.” You know what we mean: issues that don’t really solve any problems, but are solely designed to rile people up, create fear among them and turn one group of people against another, all for short-term political gain. It’s bad when this sort of thing comes out of Washington DC - it’s worse when it happens locally!

As we approach a local election in June, Supervisors Gitlin and Berkowitz have decided that the most crucial issue facing the people of Del Norte is: “Opting Out of The California Values Act” (SB 54). The people of Del Norte County have already rejected this effort. Last year, residents of Del Norte came out and convinced both the Del Norte Board of Supervisors and Crescent City City Council to refrain from sending letters opposing SB 54. Voters told our representatives what we thought, and our representatives listened.

Nevertheless, here we are.

We said it last spring, and we’ll say it again: immigrants are a vital part of our families, our economy and our community. Everyone in Del Norte deserves to be treated fairly by law enforcement no matter their background, what they look like, or where they were born. Everyone in Del Norte deserves to be with their family and their community, especially those who have fallen victim to an unjust and inhumane federal immigration system. Opting out of SB 54 is, at its core, an anti-immigrant decision that has the potential to waste our local law enforcement resources on federal business.

Two strong assertions have been made in opposition to SB 54, both of which we find to be baseless: that SB 54 will make our community unsafe, and that SB 54 is an unconstitutional law.

First, messaging has been spread that opting out of SB 54 will create a safer community in Del Norte County, and that disallowing local law enforcement from collaborating with immigration enforcement will prevent them from doing their job. SB 54 has many caveats that allow for collaboration with immigration enforcement when someone who is truly dangerous to our community should be removed, but the average immigrant is in no way dangerous. Usually, their only “crime” is their immigration status, and enforcing federal immigration law is not the duty of local law enforcement.

Opting out has the likelihood to make our community less safe by sowing fear amongst our undocumented and immigrant residents. With this fear comes an unwillingness to report crime or testify in court, which harms public safety for everyone. When local law enforcement act as deportation agents or in collaboration with deportation agents, it undermines trust and confidence in them. Do we want children in our community to be afraid of their parents being deported by the same police who we teach them to respect and trust?

Second, the idea that pushing Del Norte County to opt out of SB 54 is defending the United States Constitution doesn’t track. The Constitution is clear: the federal government cannot force local governments to carry out its agenda. Court after court has confirmed this, despite baseless lawsuits from the current administration. California is fully within its rights to keep families together and to respect constitutional due process rights by limiting the use of our resources to help the federal government deport people in our community. The thought that federal law should trump state and local law even when it is amoral and unfitting is an affront to the values of federalism that many in our community hold very dear.

Now is the time to let our local elected officials know that the people of Del Norte are tired of politics that are rooted fear and division. Instead of worrying about Opting Out of SB 54, let’s Opt Out of cynical and mean spirited politics that seek to turn us against each other when we need to work together to make our community great for everyone. Contact the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors and tell them that there are plenty of real issues facing our community that we would much rather they spend their time on.