California Resists Trump on Immigration

President Trump’s crackdown on America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants is raising alarm among that community but faces its stiffest resistance in California where leaders vow defiance, reports Dennis J Bernstein.

By Dennis J Bernstein

California Governor Jerry Brown departed in this year’s State of the State speech from the traditional practice of listing key issues and restating the panoply of the administration’s priorities for the coming year. Instead, Brown discussed the “broader context of our country and its challenges.”

Brown reminded President Trump of the importance of California’s economy in the scheme of things. “This is California,” said the Governor, “the sixth most powerful economy in the world. One out of every eight Americans lives right here and 27 percent – almost 11 million – were born in a foreign land. When California does well, America does well. And when California hurts, America hurts.”

Brown continued, “A few moments ago, I swore into office our new attorney general [Xavier Becerra]. Like so many others, he is the son of immigrants who saw California as a place where, through grit and determination, they could realize their dreams. And they are not alone, millions of Californians have come here from Mexico and a hundred other countries, making our state what it is today: vibrant, even turbulent, and a beacon of hope to the rest of the world.”

Artwork by Shepard Fairey.

“So as we reflect on the state of our state,” Brown concluded, “let me be clear: we will defend everybody – every man, woman and child – who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the well-being of our state.”

There has been a flurry of activity in the California State legislature that echoes Brown’s defiant talk about holding the line against Trump on immigration. There are bills pending now that deal with immigration at all levels, from creating a special legal office to protect undocumented workers facing deportation to extending Sanctuary in California to cover the entire state. Most recently introduced is California Senate Bill SB-31, the California Religious Freedom Act.

The California Religious Freedom Act “would prohibit a state or local agency or a public employee, acting under color of law from providing or disclosing to the federal government personally identifiable information regarding a person’s religious beliefs or practices, national origin, or ethnicity for law enforcement or immigration purposes.”

The bill would also “prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from collecting personally identifiable information on the religious beliefs, practices, or affiliation of any individual, except as part of a targeted investigation, or where necessary to provide religious accommodations.”

I spoke with California State Senator Ricardo Lara, who introduced the bill and is concerned about the creation of a national registry or database “based solely on religious beliefs or affiliation.”

Dennis Bernstein: I want to begin with your … gut overview of what you see happening, the way these presidential directives are signed, the way this was rolled out. Give us a sense of what’s going on in your mind and how this reverberates in your community.

Ricardo Lara: Well, we’re very concerned that this president continues to vilify and seek to scapegoat various communities throughout our country, which only perpetuates his goal of dividing us as a nation. And so, as a California elected official, it’s important that not only do we demonstrate that we’re going to fight back, and we’re going to fight for the rights of all Americans, and Californians, but that we demonstrate that we’re better than that. That this is really not what America is about.

And so, it’s very troubling. It puts us in a defensive position here in California. But, we’re also going to continue to push on those progressive policies that have made California the fifth [correction: sixth] largest economy in the world.

DB: And California is definitely … on the front line, is setting the example, is really drawing the line, in terms of what people are willing to do. This is in the context of so many things going on in the public agencies, as sanctuary cities. You want to talk a little bit more about that kind of uprising of resistance?

RL: Absolutely. We have committed, in the state legislature, that we are going to do everything we can to fight these divisive policies, and we’re going to protect our sanctuary cities, and, in a sense, create the sanctuary state. That is the state of California.

So, the executive orders that have come down from the president are still going to need congressional action. So we have some time to kind of decipher what method we’re going to use to fight, either in the courts or in the legislature, through policy making. But right now these are his policy statements, and directives. We’re still going to have to wait for Congress to act on a majority of these things.

And so, for local elected officials, who are living in sanctuary cities, or have declared their cities sanctuary, we have some time to strategize. And so, again, he’s being bold in his policy directives. He’s again being bombastic about what he wants to do. And so, we want to, we’re taking a step back and looking at what our options are to defend ourselves.

Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona. August 31, 2016. (Flickr Gage Skidmore)

DB: Well, as a way to get into what’s going on in terms of SB-31 here in California … are you getting reports, feedback from community, your supporters, the people who bring you to office, about an upsurge in attacks, if you will, in the age of Trump? Is there more going on? Is there more fear reverberating?

RL: Well, definitely, we’ve heard people express concern, and fear, in particular with our immigrant communities in my district, and throughout the state. And rightfully so, right? I mean, these are outright attacks on communities, and specific members of our communities, and so, rightfully, they are concerned.

And I think, for us, it’s important that not only we demonstrate that we support our immigrant communities, we support our diversity, but that we’re also demonstrating that we’re going to do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable communities which include our immigrants.

DB: Now, it is true that California has always been on the cutting edge of issues like this. And the human rights issues that have to do with, I guess, the people who do the hardest work, and get abused for it, still, in this country. And now, under Trump, in a more focused way. Now, you have been working on Senate Bill 31 which is one way of combating what we’ve been talking about. Could you lay out what exactly that is, and what you’re trying to legislate here?

RL: Absolutely. Currently we’ve heard the president talk about this creation of a Muslim database, right? And so, what we’re doing here in California, we’re preempting any state agency from collecting this data based on religious affiliation, and also insuring that a registry of this nature cannot be compiled using our state resources. So, it’s a way for us to not only prevent local and state agencies from disclosing this personal information, but clearly this is something that we have to lead.

There should be no lists of registries of individuals based on religion, ethnicity, or nation of origin. We know what happens when we start putting people on lists, separating them, and history tends to repeat itself. And it clearly… this president has no idea of just the connotation, of what he’s trying to do here, and what this is leading us towards.

And so, I think it’s important for California, again, to do that. And California is a place where we honor our diversity, and we honor, most importantly, our religious freedom. And so, this bill is important for us to not allow a California Muslim registry to happen, not now or ever.

DB: Now, we know that Kris Kobach, I believe he’s the Secretary of State of Kansas, is a key advisor to the Trump administration, and behind the scenes is trying to interweave a national registry, in terms of what you’re talking about. So, I imagine here is a chance for your bill, and for California, to be on the cutting edge, to set an example of what has to happen.

RL: Exactly. And given the fact that California has… we are the most diverse state with the most immigrant population. Securing our data, and ensuring that we protect people’s’ identity, here, would be a big… a large portion of that immigrant population that they’re trying to identify.

DB: And there … has been a formal registration or legislation created to enforce this kind of government policy. I guess it’s the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System. Is that … at the heart of the matter here?

RL: Yeah. It’s called NSEERS, and it was created after September 11th, and it clearly demonstrated, now which is currently defunct, it was used to target mostly Arab and Muslim men, across the nation. And the program… of course, is disproportionately focused on Arabs and Muslims.

And it caused really widespread fear within those communities. And it undermined the trust of law enforcement, and needlessly punished immigrants, regardless of whether or not they were suspected of any criminal activities. … My understanding is that list is no longer in place, and it really didn’t do anything to prevent any terrorists attacks… in the United States.

DB: But it caused a lot of suffering, I mean from the information, I guess, coming out of your office, they managed to register some 80,000 people, 13,000 people were placed in deportation proceedings based on technical visa violations. That sounds pretty cruel.

RL: Right. Absolutely. Not only is it cruel, it’s unjust and it’s anti-American.

Immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006. (Wikipedia)

DB: I guess there’s a great deal of fear at every level, particularly if you are undocumented, but even if you’re not, even if you’re just a brown person, there’s been an upsurge, there’s been a struggle going on. I’m wondering … what the chances are of this getting passed. And have you heard from the governor? Is there any feedback, any indication that this kind of important protection, legislation at the state level will get through, and will get support?

RL: Well, we’re early in the legislative process. And so it just cleared its first committee yesterday. We’ve received bipartisan support, some Republicans have indicated that they’re going to support the measure, and actually voted for it. So, again, we are looking to build a strong coalition that is going to help us move this policy forward, and hopefully getting it signed by the governor.

DB: And, finally, have you been meeting… are there discussions taking place now within the legislature in terms of how California is going to deal with… this is a more general question… how California is going to deal with these threats, and if Trump moves forward to cut off California, based on its strong support, its sanctuary cities, its decisions to support the immigrant population, to support all people of California. Are there plans? Is this a part of what’s going on now?

RL: Absolutely. There’s a couple strategies that we’re kinda talking about. One is to really secure the data that we have, of the programs where we currently are supporting our undocumented community. That’s first and foremost important.

Second is to ensure that we push back, through various levels, any efforts that are going to harm the economy of California because, quite frankly, why California matters to the rest of the state [nation] is that we’re a significant contributor to the federal government. And we’re also a significant part of the United States’ economy. So, by hurting California, and by creating economic instability here, you are actually harming a lot of these families in red states.

The fact is that, if you harm us economically and endanger our agricultural community… we feed 50% of the country. How is that going to impact some of the constituents across the country? And so, congressional members might feel that “Yes, we, California, we do things on our own”… but we’re inextricably linked with the economy of the United States. So, this form of potential domestic terrorism against us as Californians from the federal government is only going to hurt the country as a whole.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom. You can access the audio archives at

20 comments for “California Resists Trump on Immigration

  1. GMC
    February 26, 2017 at 12:33

    First of all its not 11 million its closer to 50 million.

    • GMC
      February 26, 2017 at 12:47

      Second of all, the foreign policy of the US with regards to its southern neignbors in the America’s is the reason for todays mass immigration problem – if we bypass the NWO F Ups-. Had we the intelligent people running the country — Blue Collar people, we would have spent trillions at home and in the Americas instead of every other corrupt continent in el mundo. Pre 65 immigration laws gave us maximum 1 million vetted legal immigrants a year and those were including families, births etc. 1950 = 150 million in the US – Today we would have max. 250 million and the American Dream, jobs, retirement and money left over for free medical insurance . – The Corrupt USG- f.. America and the immigrants were just part of the Think Tank design.

  2. What a mess
    February 23, 2017 at 18:53

    No money for schools
    No money for mental illness
    No money for fire departments
    No money for homeless
    No money for Vets
    No money for Highways or roads
    No money for anything
    EXCEPT illegals…why?

    enough with the farm workers argument…that’s why we issue green cards.

    • February 23, 2017 at 19:06

      Also many farmers are very wealthy and are able to increase their wages enough to attract resident employees.

  3. What a mess
    February 23, 2017 at 18:46

    Have you ever looked at LAPD most wanted?

  4. Mike K
    February 23, 2017 at 13:56

    Illegal immigrants. The issue is not lack of paperwork but the lack of legal status. And 15 million is quite enough.

    it’s the law and THE WILL OF THE MAJORITY.

    Why is it the Left’s selective adherence to the principles of representative govt. (and free speech) is getting a pass when the Left/Dems were just beat up very badly?

  5. backwardsevolution
    February 23, 2017 at 07:56

    Peter Kirsanow, a black lawyer and civil rights activist, says that illegal immigration hurts black men, and also all low-wage individuals, regardless of skin color.

  6. noclownz
    February 23, 2017 at 02:15

    The bottom line here is that these people have been here for years, some of them, many years. Their lives are here. We let them in and told them it was OK. Now you just want to rip their lives up and deport them back to a place where they have nothing. No homes, no jobs, no family or friends. Their entire life is here and we let them in. You can’t just suddenly say, “Sorry, you gotta go.” Where is the humanity with you right wingers? These are human beings, not dogs.

    • What a mess
      February 23, 2017 at 19:00

      Mexico is willing to spend money ( $ 50 Billion ) to provide Lawyers for them in the USA….but not to help them with Jobs or Homes in Mexico? Why?

    • February 23, 2017 at 19:04

      Who told them it was OK? Human beings risk the penalties of the laws they violate. All the immigrants I know have homes in Mexico which they are improving by having higher wages in the USA ( admittedly anecdotal, but also commonly true)

    • Jurgen
      February 25, 2017 at 21:29

      …”We let them in”…

      – Just curious – who are “we” who let them in … and how?
      Somehow I thought that illegals by definition crawl under and over the fence …eh… illegally, and don’t need anyone’s permission or invitation. And besides who exactly are those “we” who told them “it was OK” ?
      Please enlighten us, noclownz.

  7. elmerfudzie
    February 22, 2017 at 19:10

    Immigration issues such as, a more easily negotiable, predictable, plan to invite needed Mexican farm worker help could have been realized back in the early 1970’s. It was the great vision of JFK to construct an Alaskan water pipeline from that State, stretching down to water resource poor, California. The elements of unpredictability and chaos, for example; Mexican crop failures, oceanic El Nina effects, stock market instabilities and speculations could have all been quieted if not completely harnessed by a man made and steady flow of fresh water from Alaska, LEST WE FORGET TO MENTION, a minimization of endless and very costly wildfires in what was once a desert state. Again, and again I need to emphasize here, the true cost(s) of assassination and murder, it’s unforeseen and innumerable consequences !!

  8. Bill Bodden
    February 22, 2017 at 14:10

    From California’s native son, John Steinbeck: “Steinbeck’s Road Map For Resisting Donald Trump” by Stephen Cooper –

  9. Zachary Smith
    February 22, 2017 at 12:50

    2015 title to Google: “California’s immigration program: A smokescreen for the interests of big business”

    The proposed “reforms” expose the Democratic Party’s support for big business in fulfilling its need to keep in place the current, barbaric revolving door immigration policies allowing for the extreme exploitation of low-cost immigrant labor under conditions amounting to modern-day slavery.

    Oh yes, Big and Little Business wants the “undocumented” to be here in the US, but they also want them to be frightened and subservient.

    Jerry Brown’s voter “reforms” mean that the California Democrats have a lot of new voters.

    2015 title to Google: “Jerry Brown Cooks Up A Recipe For California Voter Fraud”

    2017 title to Google: “Trump Administration Exempts Three CA Oil Fields From Water Protection Rule at Jerry Brown’s Request”

    Yes, Brown immediately began sucking up to Trump. Brown makes all kinds of nice “environmental” noises, but he’s quite willing to let Big Oil pollute California aquifers.

    Finally, to show where Jerry Brown stands politically:

    “Gov. Brown announces support for Hillary Clinton”

    “(I) am deeply impressed with how well Bernie Sanders has done,” Brown said. “He has driven home the message that the top one percent has unfairly captured way too much of America’s wealth, leaving the majority of people far behind. In 1992, I attempted a similar campaign.”

    However, Brown argued that Clinton has made the case that she knows how to “get things done” and has the ability and skill to advance the Democratic agenda.

    “Clinton’s lead is insurmountable and Democrats have shown — by millions of votes — that they want her as their nominee,” Brown said. “Hillary Clinton, with her long experience, especially as Secretary of State, has a firm grasp of the issues and will be prepared to lead our country on day one.”

    Why would Brown love Hillary so much? Perhaps because he’s a neocon himself.

    “California Governor Jerry Brown signs anti-BDS bill into law”
    Newly approved legislation prevents companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign country from trading with the state

    • Gregory Kruse
      February 22, 2017 at 19:56

      Thank you for pointing that out.

  10. Dongi
    February 22, 2017 at 12:05

    CA is a powerful state with an extremely strong agricultural component. It feeds 50% of the nation’s population. It can afford to take the leadership in the battle against Trump’s immigration policies. But, I don’t know if it will prevail. The national government is pretty strong too. Guess it will depend on what other states chime in. If all the blue states come in, then it will a tremendous struggle and we shall see how tough the carrot man really is.

  11. February 22, 2017 at 11:05

    On what foundation does the right for undocumented immigration stand? I have never heard an undocumented immigrant propose that all nations have open borders. Caesar Chavez did not support undocumented immigration. Undocumented immigration is a useful tool for capitalists’ suppression of wages.

    • Bill Bodden
      February 22, 2017 at 14:25

      On what foundation does the right for undocumented immigration stand?

      There is a moral aspect to the flood of immigrants who might more accurately be referred to as refugees. American activity has been greatly responsible for much of the tragedy that has befallen people in Central America. Honduras is a prime example. Former President Manuel Zelaya wanted to improve conditions for people in the lower economic strata, but when he proposed raising the minimum wage he was overthrown by a right-wing coup with the complicity of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Honduras is now a basket case.

      Critics of immigration have a point in noting that immigrants can depress wages. Trump’s wall and his and Obama’s mass deportations are not the answer. Creating viable economies with living wages south of the border is the answer but one that will not be applied when the establishments of all regions are corrupt with unabated avarice.

      One of the more obvious lessons from stories of these refugees and deportees is a great sense of family orientation. The vast majority of them would apparently much prefer to live at peace with some degree of comfort in their homelands with their families.

      • Gregory Kruse
        February 22, 2017 at 19:54

        Another thing is that drugs except for the most dangerous kind should be legalized, taxed, and sold retail. If this had been done in the sixties and seventies, we wouldn’t have such severe problems with immigration, etc.

      • February 23, 2017 at 15:03

        You are correct in that USA agressions have been a primary cause in refugees throughout the world. USA dumping subsidized corn in Mexico, support of oligarch regimes. Zalaya was implementing land reform, besides wage increase ( opposing H’s base). USA overthrew the Guatemalean government and was instrumental in the genocide. Yet there is a legal process to accept refugees, if it is not equitable reform is the answer. USA should reverse its predatory foreign policies and stem the flow at the source.

        Then again the majority of Latino’s I work with seem to be here mainly for higher wages, and have viable conditions in their homelands. Admittedly this is anecdotal , but I suspect that the majority, of undocumented
        Immigrants are voluntary economic migrants who have no automatic status to USA residence.

        If I went to new Zealand and lived there for a few years illegally would I be eligible for residence?
        People who avoid the legal process are aware that they are legally libel for deportation.

        Furthermore allowing economic migrants to illegally work in the USA has had harsh reprocussions for native Hispanics because in past cycles of deportations ,1940’s, USA citizens have been with undocumented economic migrants.

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