By editorial board • 

Crusade for local immigration enforcement is self-defeating

The next time there is a community theater production of “Les Misérables,” state Rep. Mike Nearman would make a splendid Inspector Javert.

Nearman, like Javert, is fixated on the letter of the law to the point of obsession. Javert relentlessly hounded Jean Valjean for stealing bread to feed his sister's starving children, while Nearman sees no difference between bank robbers and undocumented and desperate immigrants. “They’re both breaking the law,” he said at a town hall in McMinnville Aug. 16.

Javert would agree. The law is the law, and the law is not mocked.

“Everyone has a human right to public safety,” Nearman also said. Agreed. The problem is that seeing the world through Nearman’s black-and-white ideological blinders is that it is not only morally questionable, but ultimately self-defeating.

The Republican from Independence would defend us all from impoverished immigrants by asking voters to overturn a 1987 state statute preventing police from enforcing federal immigration laws. What Nearman fails to grasp is the law was not passed by bleeding hearts to provide sanctuary to poor, unfortunate immigrants.

It was a practical measure to ensure members of the immigrant community are not afraid to communicate with law enforcement. State Rep. Ron Noble, a former McMinnville police chief, knows that barriers between the immigrants and police create more problems than they solve. He knows immigrants must not be afraid to dial 911 in an emergency or to cooperate with authorities during investigations.

Noble is a Republican who can hardly be accused of being a liberal. Unlike Nearman, however, he is a pragmatist. He recognizes the immigration system needs reform. He voted against extending Medicaid benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants because he said the bill was “flawed.”

Yet, he understands how turning local police officers and sheriff’s deputies into immigration agents could create a climate of fear and silence where more crime could flourish. Already, ICE agents wait outside courthouses and sheriff’s offices until possible illegal immigrants emerge. People don’t have to be guilty of any other crime to be apprehended. They could merely be escorting a friend or family member to court.

Nearman has never adequately explained how spreading fear and destroying the lines of communication between immigrants and law enforcement makes anyone safer. He just continues to mouth pious platitudes about “public safety” and “the law.” In fact, he seems almost incapable of much beyond repeating his own talking point.

Maybe he is less Inspector Javert than Deputy Barney Fife, shooting himself in the foot with his own bullet.

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