President's Message — October 2018

By Jeff Van Wagenen

I have a confession to make.

When I first heard that the topic for this issue was immigration, I asked myself (facetiously), “what could go wrong?” 

Addressing such a controversial and divisive topic … in 2018 … one month before hotly contested National, State, County, and City elections … with readers who get paid to argue for a living … seemed to me to be an idea fraught with peril. I worried that wandering into this area, no matter how deftly handled by our talented publication committee, was just asking for trouble.

But, then I realized that that was the wrong question. The better one to ask (earnestly) was, “what could go right?”

From the earliest days of our republic, we have been regulating immigration in one way or another. The laws enacted have always reflected the politics and migrant flows of the times, and have usually been controversial. Relying heavily on the work of the Pew Research Center, I was reminded that, before our time

And, proving once again the truth of the maxim “what is past is prologue,” during our lifetimes we have seen landmark immigration litigation passed in every decade since the 1960’s, and always enacted with the goal of solving the challenges of their respective times.

The one constant in the immigration debate, other than the fact there is always debate, is that advocates on the ever-evolving sides have worked to find balance and improve upon the laws that came before them. Regardless of where one sits on the current discussion, we all recognize that the pendulum will continue to swing. And, if 200 years of history has taught us anything, we will continue to get it wrong. (At least future generations will think so, no matter what we do.) But, I take comfort in the fact that there are passionate people on both sides of the argument that will never stop trying to get it right.

Speaking of getting it right … This month the Riverside County Public Defender’s Office took the extraordinary step of asking the County’s Board of Supervisors to create two new positions to better improve their ability to provide legal assistance to non-citizen clients. In 2010, the United States Supreme Court decided Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), which held that constitutionally adequate assistance of counsel includes giving specific and accurate advice to clients about the immigration and deportation consequences of criminal convictions. In 2015, this obligation was codified in California in Penal Code section 1016.3(a), requiring that defense counsel must “provide accurate and affirmative advice about the immigration consequences of a proposed disposition, and when consistent with the goals of and with the informed consent of the defendant, and consistent with professional standards, defend against those consequences.” While the Public Defender’s Office had a protocol in place that designated a specific attorney in each of its branch offices to research and advise other attorneys on immigration issues, they recognized that they needed to bolster their immigration expertise. The Board agreed and appropriated additional funding to add one attorney and one position each dedicated specifically to immigration law.

So, what could go right by addressing such a controversial and divisive topic in 2018, one month before hotly contested National, State, County, and City elections with readers who get paid to argue for a living? The possibilities are endless.


Jeff Van Wagenen is the Assistant County Executive Officer for Public Safety, working with, among others, the District Attorney’s Office, the Law Offices of the Public Defender, and the Courts.

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