Politicians speak for a living. So they should be especially careful with their words.
When elected officials make inflammatory statements that exploit fears and drive people apart, they need to be called out and told to pipe down.
Over the years, I have often pummeled Rep. Steve King. The Iowa Republican recently said that whites needn’t worry about becoming the statistical minority in America because their saving grace will be a race war between Latinos and African-Americans.
But, as one of the few Latino columnists with a national soapbox, I have a special duty to speak up when the loudmouth elected official is one of ours.
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And so, Kevin de León, this pummeling is for you.
The president pro tempore of the California Senate is vying to be the state’s chief antagonist to President Trump.
This is nice work if you can get it. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in California by 4.3 million votes.
Besides, since Trump often uses Latino immigrants as his foil, who better to shepherd the resistance on the Left Coast than the first Latino to lead the California state Senate in more than 130 years? It’s poetry.
De León’s bid to be the anti-Trump began the morning after the election when he released – with Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon – a joint statement calling the election results “clearly inconsistent with the values of the people of California.”
Even for a Never Trumper like me, the level of defiance was stunning.
De León then authored a bill, SB 54, that would make California into a so-called “sanctuary state” for people who are in the country illegally. The legislation would bar state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources – including police officers – to help with immigration enforcement.
No matter what conservatives say, this isn’t sanctuary. Federal immigration agents would still apprehend illegal immigrants in California.
But the de Leon bill does foolishly play into the hands of Republicans who want to portray both Democrats and Latinos as supporting open borders.
When the bill passed the state Senate last month, de León called the vote “a rejection of President Trump’s false and cynical portrayal of undocumented residents as a lawless community.”
Right. Why would anyone consider illegal immigrants a lawless community?
When the president threatened to withhold funds from those fabled sanctuary cities, de Leon called the threat “morally repugnant” and said that Trump’s immigration enforcement was fueled by “white supremacy.”
It warms the heart to see a unifier in action.
Here’s what I’ve learned after many years of writing about immigration: Much of white America is skittish about the changing demographics of our country, and California is no exception. So, if you’re part of the Latino community – which makes up 39 percent of the state’s population – why kick white folks in the teeth? You’ll only create more Trump voters.
Now for the worst part. Looking at de León’s record in the Legislature – particularly during the eight years of the Obama administration – I don’t think he believes his own rants. His conversion from Democratic loyalist to racial arsonist is a little too cute. He seems like a phony who would probably be much more compliant if Hillary Clinton were president and leading the crackdown on illegal immigration.
I don’t remember de León kicking up a ruckus when Barack Obama deported nearly 3 million people, divided hundreds of thousands of families, and dumped tens of thousands of U.S.-born children into foster care after kicking their parents out of the country.
I do remember what the lawmaker said in the summer of 2014. That’s when the Obama administration gave a rude reception to more than 80,000 Central American refugees, mostly women and children.
About 575 children between the ages of 13 and 17 were held, in spartan quarters and without legal counsel, in a federal detention facility in Southern California. A group of Latino legislators, including de Leon, toured the compound.
Then-state Sen. Norma Torres, a Democrat who hails from Guatemala and now serves in Congress, was moved and declared the situation a “humanitarian crisis.”
De León also appeared to have been moved, by the political expediency of not criticizing a Democratic president. After the visit, in a conference call with reporters, de León played the good soldier.
“Collectively, we came to the conclusion that we are quite satisfied with the conditions,” he said.
You see, in the Trump era, if Kevin de León seems clumsy in defending immigrants and refugees, you should cut him some slack. It’s all new to him.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is email@example.com.