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Trump anti-sanctuary meeting was just bad political theater

Trump anti-sanctuary meeting was just bad political theater
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On Wednesday, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE embraced the "resistance". The president held a White House meeting of state and local leaders from California who are rebelling against the Golden State’s sanctuary policies, which limit cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. The Trump administration’s Department of Justice is suing California over these policies, and the guests in attendance represented cities and counties that are “resisting” state law by passing ordinances against sanctuary policies or supporting the federal government in the lawsuit.

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While there are serious questions at stake in this lawsuit, that is not what was discussed in front of the cameras on Wednesday. Instead the president and his guests engaged in misrepresentations and loaded rhetoric about the supposed scourge of illegal immigration in general and California’s sanctuary laws in particular.  Overall the event amounted to a matinee performance of bad political theater.

Although the nation has become effectively desensitized to Trump’s bullying, it was still jarring to hear him disparage some undocumented immigrants.  

“You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said. “These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”  A New York Times headline referred to his venting as a “rant,” and his assertions were false anyway.  Far from being “animals,” many of the people currently trying to enter the country at our border are potential asylum-seekers, including women and children escaping horrific violence in Central America.  These people fleeing for their lives deserve compassion, not demonization.  And the current administration is not removing undocumented immigrants at record rates.  Despite all the tough talk and increased arrests, deportations have slowed under Trump.     

Showing that he has little sense of irony, Trump took aim at the mayor of Oakland, California (not in attendance), who in February warned residents of an upcoming immigration raid.  “You talk about obstruction of justice,” said the president who is the subject of special counsel’s investigation into whether he attempted to interfere with an examination of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. “I would recommend you look into obstruction of justice for the mayor of Oakland.” The anti-obstruction talk was especially unusual, given that the president was at that moment hosting a group of people who are proudly taking a stance against state law.   

The president and his administration seemed eager to give the impression that California is a horrible place with rampant crime.  But despite an uptick in 2016, the state’s crime rates are at historic lows.  Between 1980 and 2015, the state’s overall crime rate declined by about 60 percent, according to the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office. 

The 14 anti-sanctuary guests that Trump had in attendance at his meeting, like the mayor of Los Alamitos, are not representative of most Californians.  An April poll by the Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found that a majority of California voters (56 percent)  support the state’s sanctuary law, with support especially high among Latinos, African Americans, young voters and women.  Similarly, in November, a Los Angeles Times poll found that California’s sanctuary policies had “wide approval” with 53 percent of Californians favoring it.   

What was lacking at Trump’s meeting with California’s anti-sanctuary delegation was data to support their claims that the state’s laws were making it impossible for immigration authorities to do their job.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has actually been active in California, conducting workplace raids and home arrests throughout the state.  Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that sanctuary jurisdictions are indeed safe, and that many law enforcement officials support sanctuary measures because they help keep crime down. 

Here’s what people need to know about the Trump administration’s lawsuit against California over its “sanctuary” policies: The feds are basically trying to make California law enforcement officials serve as full partners in immigration enforcement.  Though that might sound like a good idea to some, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that the federal government may not “commandeer” state and local officials by compelling them to enforce federal law. This would violate the Tenth Amendment.  

We do not know how the courts will ultimately rule on the Trump administration’s suit against California, but so far the courts have tended to push back against the administration's efforts to crack down on sanctuary cities.  A Supreme Court ruling on Monday dealing with sports betting was widely viewed as bolstering the argument that the federal government cannot force states to go along with immigration enforcement.

Trump’s anti-sanctuary meeting was a farce.  It speaks volumes that the administration cannot make a case for its immigration policies without resorting to staged meetings and misleading statements.

Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and contributor to NBCNews.com and CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes.