Trump and California go to war over ‘sanctuary’ mirage

SAN DIEGO — Immigration has always made President Donald Trump a wee bit loony. No rational person would say the United States is hurt by accepting risk-takers from “shithole” countries, paint immigrants as violent criminals and claim Mexico is sending us its worst people. Just to scare up a few votes?

But now, the issue seems to have finally driven him and his entire administration stark raving mad.

How else can we explain the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has decided to sue the state of California over a phony “sanctuary” law that only has the power to offend conservatives and make liberals feel morally superior?

Sessions is not the right person to defend the supremacy of the federal government. He is a career politician who hails from Alabama, which seceded from the union in the 1860s and defied federal civil rights laws in the 1960s. He sides with gun zealots who think they have the duty to overthrow a tyrannical federal government, and who thinks local police departments accused of civil rights violations should escape federal oversight.

And this is the guy that history has chosen to lecture California on the importance of falling in line behind the federal government?

It’s absurd. To make sense of it all, keep in mind the three F’s: foil, fraud, and flip.

Foil: With a modern-day

P.T. Barnum at the helm, the Trump administration has a knack for finding a sucker every minute by creating a foil so as to deflect attention away from whatever is going wrong — a fractured and backbiting White House, a looming trade war over 19th century-style tariffs, the resignation of top advisers, questions about payoffs to a porn star, etc. During the campaign, amid a cascade of gaffes and scandals, Trump shifted the conversation to trade and made a foil out of China. A few weeks ago, when the topic was school safety, Trump pointed his finger at violent movies and video games. Now that the subject has turned to immigration, the convenient foil is California.

Fraud: When railing against so-called sanctuaries, the administration keeps contradicting itself. One minute, it says that California is preventing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents from doing their jobs; the next, it announces with great fanfare that it’s business as usual and that raids are on the way. So much for not being able to do their jobs, eh? No matter who declares what, the federal government doesn’t take orders from local and state officials in California. But nor do local officials like Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff — whom Sessions called out for spilling the beans about an ICE raid — take orders from the federal government. By the way, not for nothing, but Republicans like Sessions have for decades gone to Central California to milk contributions from conservative farmers who would lose everything and see their crops rot on the vine without illegal immigrant laborers to pick them.

Flip: Remember when conservatives ranted and raved about local control? When local school officials wanted to skirt federal education accountability requirements under No Child Left Behind, or a local county clerk declared that her Christian beliefs prohibited her from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or the state of Arizona insisted that it had the right to deputize its local and state law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration law, who did all these people go to for support? The Republican Party, that’s who. In all those cases, and too many others to mention, conservatives argued for states’ rights and local autonomy. Part of the reason for that is their healthy suspicion of an overbearing federal government. Where did those people go? We could use a few of them in California to help us fight off the overbearing — and hypocritical — Trump administration right now.

Think about the spectacle on the left coast, and how surreal it has become.

California Gov. Jerry Brown says the administration has declared “war” against his state. And what exactly are we going to war over? A con job. A mirage. A so-called sanctuary that offers no safe harbor.

In the new California, as in the old one, local police still cooperate with ICE agents, who still have access to prisoners in jail. People still get deported. Very little has changed.

But those are facts, and politics has no interest in facts. People will believe what they want to believe.

On behalf of the Golden State, this carnival act of an administration can believe this: We’ll see you in court.

Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Contact him at His daily podcasts are available on apps.