Arizona Immigration Wildfires Spread To Riverside: Shouldn’t The Hemet And Lake Elsinore City Councils Know Better Than To Play With Matches?

Immigration wildfires, which erupted in Arizona a few months ago, have now spread to Riverside County, located in Southern California.

Since I’m an immigration lawyer in Riverside, I’ve long known the debate over immigration reform was overdue.

True debate, on any issue, must be based on reasonableness.  Unfortunately, the early stages of the immigration debate in Riverside have reflected individualized rumors, factual falsehoods, and public hysteria.  Discussions have quickly turned sour.

Earlier this week two local government bodies, the City of Lake Elsinore and the City of Hemet, took stances on the Arizona bill.

Frankly, I don’t understand how the Arizona wildfires are relevant to Riverside County.

Didn’t Smokey the Bear teach all of us to put out fires before they spread?  And not to take actions which carelessly spread the flames to new areas?

In other words, “Why would any city council in Riverside County feel compelled to endorse the Arizona proposal?”

The Immigration Debate In Hemet

On the evening of the City Council meeting to discuss their endorsement of SB 1070, I showed up to state my opposition.  I was allowed three minutes to speak.  At the end of my three minutes, my microphone was cut off.

As I walked back to my seat, the mayor decided to personally challenge my position.  He did not challenge any other speaker, neither before nor after me.

I thought, ‘That’s great.  We’re going to have a real discussion.”


He would not let me respond.

Hardly fair play.

Certainly, not civic diplomacy.

Unfortunately, much of the debate over immigration reform has been moving in this direction.

The saddest aspect, however, is not the lack of concrete, evidence-oriented discussions.  Rather, it’s how Hispanic opponents of SB 1070 have been the victims of mean-spirited and ugly name-calling, imagery, and innuendo.

Let’s not fool ourselves.  Our country does have some immigration problems to resolve, and our immigration system is largely a complex maze of broken pieces loosely tied together.

But let’s also be genuine. We cannot fix such items until we agree to disagree politely and move ahead to open and honest debate.

Neither side will get everything they want out of immigration reform.

Still, both sides can learn a lot from each other and develop better solutions than now exist if – and only if – the hate-based rhetoric, imagery, and actions are removed from the equation.

My Chance, Finally, To Respond To The Hemet Mayor And City Council

A few days after the Hemet City Council meeting, the Southwest Riverside News Network asked me, in my capacity as a Hemet immigration lawyer, if I would like the opportunity to respond in writing.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity.

There’s almost nothing I would like more than a truly open discussion on issues about immigration reform.

Or the chance to discuss Hemet City Council’s proposal with the mayor and his cohorts in a free and flowing exchange of ideas.

Point and counter-point.

Not aimed at winning an argument.  Rather, focused on creating solutions for our joint neighbors.

The key points addressed in my guest article, “Hemet City Council just made a bad decision, for many reasons,” are summarized below.

1.  The violent crime situation in Arizona is vastly different than in Hemet.Arizona is a border state.  It has suffered some casualties in its border areas due to drug trafficking.  Hemet, on the other hand, is located about 150 miles away from the nearest Mexico-United States border.  It has not experienced any problems related to drug cartels from abroad.

2.  It is not clear if Arizona SB 1070 will ever be implemented.

At least eight separate lawsuits have been filed against the State of Arizona.  The federal government is also expected to soon file a legal challenge.  The challenges ask for a stay on enforcement.  This means SB 1070 will not go into effect in the near future.  It may never go into effect.

3.  The Hemet City Council’s action demonstrates poor decision-making.

But the main point, in terms of the Hemet City Council, is not whether the Arizona bill will pass constitutional scrutiny.  Rather, the issue is much simpler.  As a matter of public policy, supporting a controversial law which might never be upheld is not a good idea.

4.  By supporting a law which confuses immigration reform with criminal and drug-related activities, the City Council widened the gap between various ethnic communities in Hemet.

Perhaps more than any other aspect, the failure to distinguish two separate issues causes Hispanic communities to question the true intentions behind SB 1070.  Not all undocumented border crossers are drug dealers or people who commit violent crime.

In reality, only a small percentage of immigrants are drug dealers or guilty of violent crimes.

5.  The resolution endorsed by the Council was based on their misunderstanding of SB 1070.

At the June 22, 2010 meeting, one of the proposal’s supporters told the audience he doubted any of them had read SB 1070.  He should have included the City Council.

Looking Forward To True Immigration Reform, True Political Debate

As I noted above, far too many opponents of reasonable immigration reform don’t care about reasonableness.

They view the world very narrowly.  It’s a “us versus them” world view.

Many of these individuals are not interested in considering new information, especially facts which do not easily fit into their world views.

Nonetheless, they are very vocal, clogging up blog posts, newspaper reader columns, online forums, and radio talk shows with their degrading nonsense.

I believe they represent the minority of all those who oppose immigration reform.

Despite the adversity, I remain open to mutual discussions with immigration reform opponents.

So I’ll keep trying.

Since I have immigration law offices in San Bernardino, Riverside, and Hemet, discussions about true immigration reform and local policy solutions with the City Council of Hemet and the City Council of Lake Elsinore seem in order.

It’s an open invitation.  Forums open to the public would benefit the entire community.

However, Council members will have to leave their matches at home.