KEVIN LEININGER: In immigration battle, the South really is trying to rise again — starting in Oakland

Will Donald Trump be Abraham Lincoln to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf's Jefferson Davis? (AP photo)
Kevin Leininger

In response to what it considered lax border enforcement by the Obama administration, Arizona in 2012 passed a law giving the state broad powers to check residents’ immigration status and to make arrests without warrants where “probable cause” existed to believe they were in the country illegally. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately voided most of the law, however, with Justice Anthony Kennedy noting that “The national government has significant power to regulate immigration.”

But in just the latest example of how hypocrisy never goes out of style in politics, many of the same people who cheered the federal government’s clout then are now telling Washington it has absolutely no authority to enforce immigration laws if individual states and even cities decide such laws are irrelevant and — of course! — racist.

A few weeks ago I suggested the invasion of millions of illegal immigrants into the United States was similar to Germany’s demand for “lebensraum” minus the soldiers, tanks, death camps and funny mustache. But Attorney Jeff Sessions offered an even better historical analogy this past week when he compared so-called “sanctuary” efforts by California and Oakland to the secession of Southern states during the Civil War.

The comparison is apt. If the federal government is preeminent in immigration matters, as the Supreme Court asserted just six years ago, by what authority did Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf warn illegal immigrants in her city of potential raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement? According to ICE officials, 800 people may have avoided the sweep because of Schaaf, at least some of whom had previously been convicted of sex crimes, drunken driving, armed robbery and other serious offenses.

Supporters, of course, consider Schaaf closer to Rosa Parks than Jefferson Davis. According to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Sessions and others like him “are really mired in rolling back the clock in time. California represents the future, and they don’t like it . . . Jeff Sessions should be advised it’s a bad idea for him to start talking about anything to do with the history of slavery.”

Donald Trump, whose very presidency was built on his promise to seal the Southern border, called Schaaf’s warning a “disgrace,” and so it was. Has there ever been a time in our nation’s history when so many politicians have elevated the interests of non-citizens, many of whom are serious law-breakers, over the laws passed by the very Americans they are sworn to serve?

For the past several decades, the political left has blasted any claim of “states’ rights” as a thinly veiled defense of racism. To be sure, many on the political right have praised states’ rights — until they like what the federal government is doing. The problem here is not with the concept of limited state sovereignty — it’s supposedly guaranteed by the 10th Amendment — but how it is applied.

Simply put, states should have broad powers whenever the Constitution does not specifically grant such powers to the federal government. In this case, as the Supreme Court has affirmed, Washington’s authority trumps Sacramento’s or Oakland’s.

Eight years ago conservative legislators held a conference in Indianapolis on a legal concept called interposition, which Paul Jehle, director of the Massachusetts-based Plymouth Rock Foundation, defined as “the act of doing something lawful to check government that is operating outside of its jurisdiction.” Obamacare, same-sex marriage and other hot-button issues were being debated at the time, and the idea was that, if the federal government overstepped its constitutional authority, Americans have no duty to obey.

But of course people interpret the Constitution differently, and as I wrote at the time, “What would happen if states ignore Roe vs. Wade’s laughable discovery of abortion rights? What would happen if cities refused to cower when judges decree that a crèche in the courthouse square constitutes the establishment of religion?” .

If Oakland prevails after not bothering to cite the 10th Amendment or even the Supreme Court, there’s nothing but still more hypocrisy to stop any of it, and much more.

Money back guarantee

Some companies made big contributions to Mayor Tom Henry before the city’s “pay to play” law took effect Jan. 1 limiting contributions to $2,000 per year by firms hoping to win city contracts. Wessler Engineering waited until Feb. 13 to donate $5,000, however, and is now requesting a $3,000 refund from Henry’s campaign in order to maintain its eligibility, as the law allows.

“This shows the law is working,” City Councilman John Crawford, R-at large, said.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.