Since this summer is the 42nd anniversary of my Marine Corps battalion conducting an evacuation of Lebanese citizens from war torn Beirut, I read Mayor Abed’s Washington Times op-ed reprinted in our local Times Advocate with particular interest. In the op-ed he compared Escondido to war torn Beirut.
Lebanon – a Case Why Having a Strong Community Matters
If you are not familiar with the troubles in Lebanon, the events are covered in many history books. Suffice it to say, the country devolved into a civil war with sides divided by religion and cold war politics. When I returned in the early ‘80s as part of a Marine Corps peace keeping force, not much had changed except the city itself, that was once known as the Paris of the Middle East, had become part of a failed state and pockmarked by the results of direct and indirect fire weapons. Even in that terrible condition, one could see how beautiful and prosperous the city had been. It is no wonder that Abed abandoned his home and sought a better life, like all of our immigrant families, here in America.
Like Abed, people from all over the world want to come to the U.S.
Now I don’t blame Abed for wanting to leave his home rather than stay and fight for it. We see that all the time on the news and certainly there are many examples in history. People from all over the world in similar situations want to come here. The problem of course, is that there aren’t enough visas for everyone. Abed was one of the lucky ones who managed to succeed in that effort. Not everyone from Lebanon who wanted to come could come, and if we had shared a contiguous border with Lebanon, during that timeframe, we would probably be talking about the undocumented Lebanese. And if we shared it with Syria today, it would be the Syrians, and the list goes on. Simply put, our way of life has provided us with peace and prosperity and those who don’t have it seek us out.
Abed now makes the comparison between Beirut and Escondido, and claims the influx of immigrants is making us less safe and more like Beirut. Abed is a politician, so exaggeration comes with the territory, but this claim is so far over the line it leaves the domain of reasonableness. As a quick aside, it is worth noting that in his 2018 state of the city speech, he said we have the lowest crime rate since 1980 and claimed credit for it. The claim by the way is really a national trend that started at least 10 years before he got here. But you see the immediate contradiction. What he is really upset about is SB 54 – the California Values Act.
SB 54 Does Not Prevent Police from Reporting Criminals to ICE
Abed claims SB 54 somehow prevents the execution of the duties of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. And that is just not true. Undocumented immigrants convicted of a serious misdemeanor or felony, and there are 800 listed in SB 54, can be reported to ICE. Unless you are in law enforcement, I don’t think many of us could take a blank sheet of paper and write down 800 things that would break the law. I would argue that when it comes to listing important laws, we’re covered. So, what is so upsetting to Abed? The law also states that we can’t use local law enforcement to enforce a responsibility that lies with the federal authorities. In this case, we are talking about immigration. That is a good decision because the immigration problem is a complex Federal issue and didn’t start this election year. There are real dangers when local officials feel they can interpret and enforce federal mandates. So let’s look at the facts.
First, we need to remember that research shows that the undocumented immigrant population has a lower crime rate than the rest of the population. That means everyone who is here is not a member of an MS 13 type gang and they are not causing chaos in our streets.
Second, undocumented immigrants came here for the same reason as documented immigrants – to escape their poverty, lack of opportunities, and in some cases dangerous, and even life-threatening situations, and have a better life. And they were able to stay here because the citizens of this country employed them in jobs Americans didn’t want to do and at very low wages.
Third, keeping the crime rate low requires police officers having a good rapport with the residents. Putting our police department into the position of ICE agents closes that door. It also has the unintended effect of increasing criminal boldness and endangering our officers and residents.
Finally, Abed ends his op-ed by claiming that one of the reasons people are leaving California is because of his imagined chaos and anarchy caused by immigrants. Sorry, that’s not true either. People are leaving because it’s expensive to live here. If Abed wants to help Escondido, he needs to narrow his focus from Sacramento and Washington, D.C. back to our city and work on bringing in good paying jobs, helping young families find affordable housing and improving the reputation of Escondido. After all, isn’t that what a mayor is supposed to do. Abed is entitled to his own opinions but not his own facts.