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Proud to live in a sanctuary city



If you don’t live in the San Francisco Bay Area, you might not have heard of the squabble between my Mayor here in Oakland, Libby Schaaf, and ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department.

Briefly, last week Schaaf tweeted a formal warning to her city that “multiple credible sources” had told her of imminent raids throughout the Bay Area, including Oakland, against undocumented residents.

It was the lead story that night on all the news programs, as word filtered throughout the region and undocumented residents listened and prepared. Trump World was outraged, and almost immediately struck back: Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department announced they are “investigating whether…Schaaf obstructed justice by warning her residents of impending raids.” ICE issued a press release accusing “the Oakland mayor” of “increase[ing] the risk for [ICE] officers and alert[ing] criminal aliens.” The statement, by ICE’s deputy director Thomas Homan, said Schaaf’s “reckless decision was based on her political agenda.” The White House, needless to say, jumped in, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders calling Schaaf’s action “outrageous” and accusing Schaaf of putting ICE officers lives “in danger.”

The raids that Schaaf warned of did indeed take place, with more than 150 people arrested since last weekend. Schaaf, for her part, refused to back down. In a tweet, she wrote, “I do not regret sharing this information. It is Oakland’s legal right to be a sanctuary city and we have not broken any laws.”

My view is entirely supportive of what my Mayor, Libby Schaaf, did. I don’t always agree with her. I wish she were more supportive of the Oakland Police Department. I wish she were tougher on homelessness. I wish she didn’t give in to political pressure from every fringe group that takes over City Council meetings demanding things that will never happen.

But in this case, Schaaf got it right, and it took a great deal of courage for her to do what she did. Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley are sanctuary cities. There’s a reason why we citizens feel the way we do about immigrants, legal or otherwise. It has to do with why the Bay Area is so militantly anti-Trump. It’s because we have lived side by side with immigrants, mainly from Mexico and Central America, for a very long time. They are part of our communities. We know how honest, hard-working and family-oriented they are. We also know how friendly and sweet they are. We understand that there are laws about legal entry into the U.S. but we also think that sometimes, those laws should be ignored (if they can’t be changed), in a kind of official benign neglect that recognizes the importance of our immigrants and the dignity they deserve. To call them “criminal aliens” is disgusting. It makes them sound like animals. The real animals, to me, are the tea party-evangelical-white supremacist haters who populate Trump World and tolerate the aberrant behavior of a rogue president.

Frankly, I see no reason why undocumented immigrants who are working hard and subscribing to American values can’t be left alone and given a path to citizenship. Trump and Fox “News” portray them all as MS-13. They know that’s a lie; it’s the same smear that was used against Italian-Americans by saying they’re all Mafia, or against the Japanese-Americans in World War II who were interned, or against gay people, for that matter, whom rightwing Christians insult on a daily basis by calling them pedophiles and recruiters.

Illegal immigration was never such a big deal in politics before Trump was elected. Why has it suddenly become a huge problem? To my way of thinking, there can be only one explanation: the Trump voters on the far right suffer from a combination of racism, xenophobia and faux patriotism. There’s something about dark-skinned people that annoys them; they think of themselves as the defenders of some ancient chivalrous code of whiteness—a code that never existed. Their anger is completely irrational, but it’s real—and Donald Trump understood it years ago and decided to take advantage of it by stoking their resentments and fears.

I’m very proud to live in Oakland and in a Bay Area that is so spiritual and moral. It feels good to be an outpost of civility, in a country where Red States are increasingly motivated by hatred. I would even go so far as to suggest that, if our citizens know that an ICE raid is about to occur, that we gather in force at the site and peacefully prevent arrests from being made. As Dr. King said, “Now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.” The forces of Trump reach out for the nighttime of injustice, inequity and oppression. I know which side I’m on.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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