What Is Santa Clarita Councilman Kellar Proud of?

04/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Approximately six months ago, I received a frantic call from a woman who told me her husband and nephew were hiding inside a warehouse located in Santa Clarita because ICE officers had descended on them and were about to apprehend at least 50 workers. She feared her husband, an undocumented worker, would be found and taken away and eventually deported. "What will I do without him? He's the bread winner and he's a good worker," she told me.

More than 50 workers were detained during that rainy afternoon by members of the Sheriff department. As several immigration advocates and I watched helplessly, the family members of those inside kept arriving, fear in their eyes, anger in their voice. The officers told media outlets they were responding to a call accusing the workers of using false identification in order to work. One thing was clear to me: immigrants offer a significant service to the City of Santa Clarita.

Fast forward to January 2010. A handful of members of the Minutemen and other dubious racist organizations made their presence known at an anti-immigrant rally a few days ago. Santa Clarita Councilman Bob Kellar was in attendance. In one of those Twilight Zone moments, Kellar was heard saying that he has been labeled a racist for adhering to the mantra of "one flag, one language" nation, a Teddy Rooselvelt phrase. If saying he's a proud American brands him a racist, Mr. Kellar went on, "then I'm a proud racist."

According to the 2000 U.S. Census, the City of Santa Clarita's population is 69.2% White, 20.5% Latino/Hispanic, 5.2% Asian, and 2.4% Black/African American. The Latino population percentage is above state average. 63.1% are registered Democrats, and 35.5% are registered Republicans. The mayor is a woman and all five council members are white. If we need to spell it out for Kellar, the City of Santa Clarita is a diverse, business-friendly city north of San Fernando. His anti-immigrant views are outdated and do not represent the reality of the city he serves.

I am not surprised to hear about Mr. Kellar's outburst. I have heard many such words emanating from self-described "true Americans," especially after the victory of President Obama. Something that has appalled me about Mr. Kellar's attitude since his anti-immigrant rally "confession" is how arrogant and unapologetic he seems, and how detached he seems from the city and state he lives in. During a council meeting last week, his supporters waved American flags and carried posters that read "American hero," "proud American," "patriot." I guess the implication is that all others, especially those of us who have criticized Mr. Kellar's combative language, are not all of the above.

I am a card-carrying immigrant rights advocate, but I do not expect everyone else to be one. I do expect elected leaders such as Mr. Kellar to represent their constituents' needs and to show respect for the diverse population in their cities, and the diversity of opinion that population includes. Mr. Kellar shows neither. Instead, his words remind me of a cartoon I saw once, where the coyote unsuccessfully tries thousands of tricks to pursue a fast and very smart road runner. He never gets the bird, but he refuses to accept the bird has outsmart him.

The City of Santa Clarita is changing rapidly, and Kellar refuses to accept that it's outsmarting him. Thus, he adopts populist language, anti-immigrant stances, and dangerously befriends groups with supremacist ties passing as concerned citizens. His engagement with the very real issue of immigration reform is disrespectful and ignorant.

Unfortunately, Kellar is not alone. Just a few days after the incident in Santa Clarita, two California Congressmen (Hunter and MacClintock) supported the resolution entitled "Bipartisan Reform of Immigration Through Defining Good Enforcement" (BRIDGE). The resolution's intent is to focus on border enforcement and deportation of undocumented workers, and to blame the nation's recession on the immigrant workforce. Similar to Kellar, the resolution proposed Americans follow a backwards path -- a path that would lead to old America, where women could not vote, the country was less diverse, and ethnic groups were denied basic civil rights. This BRIDGE goes nowhere near where America is moving to.

The City of Santa Clarita I know is a bustling hub in California with a powerful and rich history of diversity. Its residents deserve leadership that is just as dynamic, forward-looking, and humane. Mr. Kellar has a lot to be proud of instead of embracing anti-immigrant demagoguery.