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Awesometown from Afar

| Opinion | May 17, 2018

While on an out-of-town assignment, I missed being here for the City Council’s vote to make Santa Clarita a “Sanctuary City.”

For white people.

I found out only after being asked where I was from. When I offered up the name of our fair city, most people first responded by saying, “Oh, yeah … the place where they do that diet show about cannibals and zombies.”

I responded that the only people eating their own in Santa Clarita were disaffected Democrats so inured to the unfettered antics of their elected officials, that they’d come to resemble shell-shocked survivors of some cataclysmic event. Others, more abreast of current events than I, proceeded to tell me that our civic leaders decided by a 5-0 vote to oppose SB 54, California’s “Sanctuary State” law, and planned to file a brief in support of the Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the state – meaning a lawsuit against those of us who live here. All of us. Not just brown or black, or of Asian descent, but white folks too. Their vote made Santa Clarita first among equals. Or at the least, makes our city the first to formally stand in opposition to the law. Which makes many who dwell here very happy. Santa Claritans who have made this community their home for more than a few decades might recall the glittery billboard that was once visible from the northbound 5 Freeway, the one that resembled the sequined costume of an oversized Vegas showgirl. It was an invitation to those seeking refuge from the city down below, specifically, tempting them to settle in Stevenson Ranch. The sign proclaimed that the valley’s newest community was a “masterpiece in master planning.”

That catchy slogan was somewhat discomfiting to many, as it sounded as though it had been penned by a member of some master race. One who believed that the recently-hatched City of Santa Clarita and its surrounding environs would be tempting to those quietly migrating north as part of some massive white flight, ostensibly in hopes of settling in a place with good schools, relatively affordable housing, quaintly coiffed lawns, one that is now among the top 10 safest cities in the state. Given all those wonderful qualities, Awesometown sounds so much better than “masterpiece.”

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Our city fathers and mothers would have us believe they aren’t “anti-immigration,” just “anti-illegal immigration.” They seem to forget that restrictions on immigration were the creation of many politicians as like-minded as themselves, who forged laws specifically targeting those who were not like them, meaning White Anglo-Saxon Protestants from Western European countries, and that our doors were once open to people of all races, colors, and creeds.

Many members of this community, indeed members of our City Council past and present, are descendants of some of those groups targeted by immigration laws and religious intolerance: Asians, Eastern Europeans and Russians (read: Jews), Italians and others of Mediterranean (read: Latin) descent, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints … all encountered persecution by their very own neighbors. American neighbors. As for black Americans, many came involuntarily and were subjected to even greater persecution and racism.

There’s a key point upon which I agree with the council. Anyone who has entered this country illegally and is convicted of a serious crime should not be permitted to remain in the U.S. That just makes sense. But it doesn’t mean a floodgate should be opened to hunt down anyone and everyone who has crossed our borders in hopes of creating a better life for themselves and their families. To a degree, this is what the Trump administration is proposing and what our City Council appears to support.We are in dire need of immigration reform. Without question. But not at the expense of innocent children being separated from their families and placed into what White House Chief of Staff John Kelly calls “foster care or whatever.” Note to General Kelly: During the 1800s those of Irish descent such as yourself were persecuted by groups who preceded them – Europeans who referred to themselves as “native Americans.” Tell that to the original Native Americans.

Many on the council have made clear that they are merely adhering to the Constitution which they took a sworn oath to uphold. And that’s a very fair argument. In opposing SB 54, they are violating state law with the intent of staying true to one that may very well supersede it. Note to council members: Donald Trump also swore he would uphold the Constitution, yet appears to be in the process of gutting as much of both it and the rule of law as he possibly can. All five members of the City Council who voted to oppose SB 54 clearly did so with the best of intentions, small-minded as those intentions may seem to many Santa Claritans. No matter. The council’s vote is, by-and-large, symbolic. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is not going out of its way to make undocumented residents’ lives miserable. They have far more important things to do. Like keeping Santa Clarita one of the U.S.’s top 50 safest cities in which to live (caveat: with populations over 200,000).

So, why do it? Really? Because in voicing its opposition to SB 54, the council is playing to its base, just as President Trump plays to his. Long term, the council’s actions may be irrelevant, but not to those who voted for them. And therein lies the rub. The political composition of the City of Santa Clarita is not what it once was. The city’s Awesometown marketing campaign is partially responsible for that. In a state that is increasingly comprised of Democrat and Independent voters, those who bleed blue (or remain neutral) are also increasing in number in our own community. They seek the very things that have attracted families to the Santa Clarita Valley for generations. Just as those who’ve made their way to the U.S. from south of the border have also sought a better life. To find their own Awesometown, as it were. By and large, those protected by SB 54 are not criminals. They are not here to suckle greedily at the breast of the federal and state governments. They are here to work; at jobs most of us choose not to do. They want safety and security.

Symbolic or not, the leaders of this community have sent a clear message that undocumented residents are not welcome in the City of Santa Clarita; any undocumented resident, not just those who break the law. The council has voted its collective conscience. But, on many matters of policy, they speak for a dwindling number of residents here.

To those who may not like what members of the current City Council have to say, a few words of advice. Show up or shut up. At council meetings, at the ballot box, and at community organizing events. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill frequently noted and is famously quoted as saying by politicians from both parties: “All politics is local.” So, all you Awesome people, if you want to see change nationally or globally, start small. And act locally.

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