SAN DIEGO -- California Gov. Jerry Brown is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a Mexican hat dance.
The Democrat signed one bill that will probably wind up helping a small number of people and, with regard to another bill, issued a veto that will likely hurt many more.
The bill that Brown signed gives driver's licenses to young illegal immigrants, i.e., DREAMers, who are given deferred action by the Obama administration. It impacts a sliver of the estimated 3 million illegal immigrants in California, most of whom come from Mexico. Nationwide, only about 120,000 DREAMers stepped forward to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. To date, according to an immigration lawyer who handled one of the cases, fewer than 100 people in the entire country have been granted the two-year reprieve from deportation.
Meanwhile, the bill that Brown vetoed -- known as the TRUST Act -- impacted thousands of lives. It would have barred local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration agents in detaining suspects for deportation unless they were charged with serious or violent felonies.
Currently, a nanny who is undocumented but has no criminal record can be pulled over for a busted taillight and get arrested, fingerprinted and handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation.
ICE's favorite chew toy is the program called Secure Communities, or SCOMM. The initiative -- which requires local law enforcement to submit to federal authorities the fingerprints of anyone they arrest who might be in the country illegally (read: Latinos) -- began in late 2008 but was expanded nationwide by the Obama administration. It is snake oil. Localities and states were conned into signing on with assurances that their participation was voluntary and that the program would focus only on serious and violent criminals. Both were untrue.
Some of SCOMM's harshest critics are President Obama's fellow Democrats -- Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as well as California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who wrote the TRUST Act to restore sanity to law enforcement, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who voiced support for the bill.
The media spun the legislation as an "anti-Arizona" bill intended to keep the Golden State from going over to the dark side. But the TRUST Act was really anti-SCOMM.
Brown wouldn't go along. Anyway, it's not like he was a critic of SCOMM to begin with; in 2009, while serving as state attorney general, Brown supported the program and signed the agreements with the federal government that wound up bringing so much turmoil into the lives of undocumented immigrants whose labor keeps California -- especially its $40-billion-a-year agriculture industry -- humming along.
Brown's veto was a mistake. But what was really offensive -- and a wakeup call to Latinos who sheepishly give Democrats a pass on their immigration foibles while hammering Republicans -- was how he tried to justify it.
The governor's statement on the veto was only 226 words. Yet remarkably, in that small space, he managed to insult the intelligence of Californians three different times.
First, Brown -- failing to mention his past support for SCOMM -- issued a hypocritical statement in which he insisted that "federal agents shouldn't try to coerce local law enforcement officers into detaining people who've been picked up for minor offenses and pose no reasonable threat to their community."
Next, Brown engaged in fear-mongering. He claimed he was vetoing the TRUST Act because it overlooked individuals convicted of "child abuse, drug trafficking, selling weapons, using children to sell drugs, or gangs." I'm sure that it was just an unfortunate coincidence that the governor sought to make a point about a pool of illegal immigrants that is largely Latino by referencing the stereotypes of drug dealers and gangbangers.
And finally, Brown contended the bill could be "fixed" and pledged that he would "work with the Legislature to see that the bill is corrected forthwith"; in this case, why didn't the governor "work with the Legislature" to tweak the bill when it was making its way through the process? Answer: This way, Brown can kick the ball downfield, perhaps beyond his 2014 re-election effort.
You want to talk about trust. In 2010, California Latinos threw their support behind Brown. His Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, had bungled the immigration issue by bashing illegal immigrants even after she had hired one as a housekeeper. Latinos put their trust in Brown. And, with one veto of a common sense bill, he betrayed it.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is email@example.com.Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group