Even before Donald Trump’s now-infamous executive order shutting the nation’s doors to refugees—and the Washington State lawsuit that at least temporarily reopened that door—Washington Governor Jay Inslee had thrown down the gauntlet. “We will continue to accept refugees,” he pledged. “And we are not going to have any religious tests. It’s not acceptable to basic American values. We’re going to maintain our state’s welcome mat that helps immigrants in job training and language training so they can build their new lives here.”
The federal government may have veered sharply right, but California, Oregon, and Washington are experiencing their most progressive political moment in decades. In recent years, all have embraced significant minimum-wage increases, ambitious environmental measures, expanded access to health care, protections for undocumented residents, broad LGBTQ rights, increased spending on mental-health services, and wide-ranging criminal-justice and drug-policy reforms. California now looks dramatically different from the state that passed anti-immigration measures, three-strikes sentencing laws, and the Proposition 13 antitax initiative a generation ago. It looks different even from a decade ago, when it was governed by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger and fiscally choked by a bipartisan assumption that any tax increases were a political third rail. Recent gains, which include roughly $20 billion in Affordable Care Act funding that underpins the state’s massive expansion of health-insurance coverage, have turned the Pacific Seaboard into America’s version of a flourishing social democracy. And now it’s under sustained attack from the Trump administration.
Since Inauguration Day, all of the large West Coast cities have been roiled by near-daily demonstrations, occupations of airports in response to Trump’s assault on refugees and Muslim immigrants, vigils on behalf of the undocumented, and environmental protests. By most estimates, well over 1 million Californians—roughly one in 30 residents—took to the streets for the January 21 women’s marches. In Los Angeles County, where groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles have been organizing for years, that number was closer to one in 10. The entire region, from San Diego to Seattle, is a tinderbox, much of its population feeling under assault from Washington, and many of its top politicians now viewing the Trump administration as something akin to an occupying force.
It’s in these three states, with nearly a sixth of the US population and a fifth of the US economy, that a successful regional opposition to Trumpism is most likely to take hold over the coming months and years.
Sitting in his plush office in Sacramento’s Capitol, Kevin De León, the State Senate president pro tem, talked in almost military terms about the challenges ahead. “There are a variety of battlefronts that can really impact the quality of life of many Americans,” he said. “We’re in the process of doing a thorough and comprehensive assessment to find the possible remedies to counter any attempt to hit California economically and politically. It’s imperative that we join forces with like-minded states. We’re talking about legislative remedies that would not be subjugated to any executive order.” Regarding the prospect of mass detentions and deportations of immigrants, De León, who represents downtown and East Los Angeles, cut his political teeth in campaigns opposing California’s own punitive anti-immigrant measures in the 1990s, acknowledged that “we don’t have any jurisdictional powers. That being said, we don’t have to use our state and local tax dollars to collaborate. We believe that legally, they don’t have the ability to commandeer local police departments.”