You may have read about Jeff Sessions’ recent lawsuit against California. Sessions is pursuing the Trump Administration’s vendetta against immigrants (ostensibly against undocumented immigrants, but with rhetoric that signals distaste for anyone–legal or not–who is less pale than a Norwegian), and he’s determined to overcome any obstacles to that task.
The Department of Justice has just filed a lawsuitagainst the state over three laws it passed in 2017 that limit government officials’ and employers’ ability to help federal immigration agents, and that give California the power to review conditions in facilities where immigrants are being detained by the feds. Sessions, in a Wednesday speech to the California Peace Officers’ Association, a law enforcement union, is giving the message in person.
It’s a huge escalation of the Trump administration’s fight against “sanctuary cities” that limit local-federal cooperation on immigration enforcement. After a year of slow-moving or unsuccessful attempts to block “sanctuary” jurisdictions from getting federal grants, Sessions is moving to stop them from passing laws that limit cooperation to begin with. And he’s starting with a shot across the bow: targeting the bluest state in the union, whose 2017 bills represented a model for progressives to use federalism against the Trump administration’s immigration agenda.
Sessions’ is determined to pursue his punitive federal policy without having to deal with impediments to enforcement enacted by progressive cities and states. According to Vox, we should view this lawsuit as the next phase “in a battle the Trump administration and California are equally enthusiastic about having: an ongoing culture war between progressive politicians who feel a duty to make their immigrant residents feel as safe as possible, and an administration (and its backers) whose stated policy is that no unauthorized immigrant should feel safe.”
Vox is right to label this a culture war. I used to reserve that term for fights over the so-called “social issues”–abortion, same-sex marriage, prayer in schools, religious icons on public land and the like. That was before I realized that environmentalism had also become a culture war issue, and that the division wasn’t simply between religious and secular Americans, but also between adherents of very different religious worldviews.
We Americans are currently very polarized, to put it mildly. The expanded “culture war” of which immigration is a part is an outgrowth of our increasing tribalism, our stubborn residence within bubbles populated primarily by our “own kind,” both intellectually and geographically.
The big question is whether this is an era of transition–a time of paradigm shift brought on by rapid changes in technology and especially communications–or whether it is something more lasting. The activism of the younger generation that we have seen in the wake of the Parkland shooting is a hopeful sign that it may be the former–that the fear and insecurity that have prompted recent, distressing eruptions of bigotry and racial resentment will pass as my generation dies off.
The challenge will be to keep the Donald Trumps and Jeff Sessions of the world from inflicting irreparable damage in the meantime.