One year ago, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf was emerging from the most difficult stretch of her political career. Her administration had been rocked by the Oakland police sex exploitation scandal and then by the tragic Ghost Ship fire. At the time, Schaaf’s political future was uncertain. It looked as if she might face a tough reelection campaign in 2018 as political candidates began to talk about running against her.
But twelve months later, no serious candidate has officially launched a mayoral bid, other than Schaaf, and her path to reelection suddenly looks clear. That’s especially true after she made national headlines last week for her decision to stand up to President Trump’s anti-immigration efforts and warn people about impending sweeps by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).
Schaaf was featured in the Washington Post, The New York Times, and on cable news. The Trump White House even attacked her, calling her decision to warn immigrants “outrageous” and urging the U.S. Department of Justice to launch an investigation into whether she obstructed justice.
It was pure political gold. In the liberal East Bay, nothing beats getting called out by Donald Trump.
It was also reminiscent of Gavin Newsom’s Moment. Before his courageous stand in 2004 for same-sex marriage, Newsom was known as a moderate San Francisco politician who was a bit too cozy with California’s wealthy elite. But ever since, he’s been a hero of the Left. Similarly, the knock on Schaaf in Oakland has always been that she isn’t progressive enough. Now, she’ll always be remembered for defying President Trump’s attempts to deport people and break apart families.
“She was pretty popular already, but if she had any weakness, it was probably on the left,” said veteran Bay Area political consultant Barry Barnes. “This helps her.”
Indeed, ever since Schaaf took her stand, other Bay Area pols have rushed to praise her. Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin tweeted, “Thank you @LibbySchaaf for your strong leadership for justice and sanctuary for Oakland and East Bay residents.” State Sen. Scott Wiener D-San Francisco, added, “If @LibbySchaaf is prosecuted for protecting her constituents against Trump’s extreme immigration agenda, she will be the first political prisoner of the Trump era. And not the last. Get ready to fight.”
But Schaaf’s decision to warn about the ICE raids — along with her earlier declaration that she’s willing to be jailed to protect immigrants’ rights — was more than just politically shrewd. It was the right thing to do. Trump’s immigration crackdown and his racist rhetoric have been deplorable — and dangerous.
Oakland, Berkeley, and other liberal cities have long had sanctuary policies primarily because of health and public safety concerns. Local political leaders have understood for years that we want undocumented immigrants who have been victims or witnesses of crime to come forward without fear of being deported. We want undocumented people who are sick — especially those with a communicable illness — to go to health clinics or hospitals. We want undocumented parents to send their children to school and not live their lives on the street. That’s what it means to be a sanctuary city. And Schaaf sent undocumented immigrants living in Oakland an unambiguous message that she’s got their backs.
As an Oakland native and lifelong resident, she also understands that we’re a city of immigrants, a place with a storied history of welcoming newcomers and refugees, of people fleeing dangerous conditions or simply searching for a better life.
Schaaf also did the right thing because ICE and its subsidiary, HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), have been terrorizing communities for no legitimate reason. HSI maintains that its primary role is to target undocumented immigrants who are involved in crime, particularly human trafficking. But as the Express noted last fall, that’s largely a myth: HSI has failed to successfully prosecute a single human trafficking (non-sex trafficking) case in the past decade in Oakland (see “Oakland Should Cut Off Ice,” 11/27/2017). Instead, many HSI cases simply result in arrests of people whose only crime is being here illegally.
Schaaf also did the right thing because her tactic worked. ICE officials asserted that they would’ve arrested 800 people in addition to the 150 they detained if it had not been for Schaaf. ICE officials also claimed the mayor allowed “criminal” immigrants to remain in the country. But that’s largely bullshit, too. Why? ICE considers immigrants who have been convicted of any crime in the past to be a “criminal” — even after they’ve paid their debt to society. And just what are these crimes? According to a recent Pew Research Center study, among ICE arrestees the agency considers “criminal,” the most common conviction in 2017 was for drunken driving (16 percent), followed by drug crimes (14 percent) and entering the U.S. illegally (14 percent). Moreover, several studies have shown that both documented and undocumented immigrants are much less likely to commit crime than Americans.
In short, the idea that our streets are overrun with violent immigrants is bogus. To her credit, Schaaf gets it. And for Oakland, it looks as if we’re going to get four more years of her.