San Francisco Civil Rights Lawyer Robert Rubin on the Reality of the Illegal Immigrant

Last year we interviewed Robert Rubin, litigation director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and the resulting profile, "Remembering the St. Louis," appeared in the 2010 issue of Northern California Super Lawyers magazine. Rubin was such a fascinating interview, however, that we couldn't fit it all in. Here's part of what was left out.

If you could change any aspect of a law right now, what would it be?

This isn't terribly grandiose but I would certainly legalize the 12 million undocumented immigrants with an essential wave of the wand.

These are people who had been tacitly invited here. Over the last year illegal immigration entries are way down. People don't come when there aren't jobs. They come when there are jobs.

Going back to [California's Prop. 187], when I was on the campaign trail [in 1994], I used to debate a guy who always used this metaphor: "What it's like is you're having a party, and people crash the party and want to eat your food." Finally I said, "Know what? That's not the metaphor. This is the metaphor. You're having a party. But you don't want to clean up and you don't want to bring the kids, so you hire... See those people standing on the other side of the fence? You say, 'Come on in here. Serve our food. Clean our dishes. Take care of our kids.' And they say, 'OK. Would it be okay while I'm doing that if my kid goes to school?' And you tell him to take a hike."

That's the reality of the illegal immigrant.

These are folks that we have tacitly invited that are part of the fabric of our society. [But] as soon as there's a downturn in the economy, they're the problem. That's why we lost 187. Pete Wilson was able to convince the people of California that the loss of aerospace and defense industry jobs, which were substantial, were caused by illegal aliens. I don't know any illegal alien who went to work for the aerospace industry. But he convinced people of that. Why? Fear.

And the fear is understandable. In the early '90s this state was in bad shape and people were legitimately scared. You don't lose your job, with tuition to pay and food bills to pay, without being scared. I get that. But rather than provide real solutions, you get demagogues who go out there and beat the drum of nativism. And people say, "Ah ha! That's why I'm hurting! It's not because of the change in the economy, it's not because of anything the government did, it's not because of anything private industry did. It's because of José. And if we get rid of him, my problems will be over."