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Partly cloudy with a chance of deportation 

Boom! Crash! It thundered and lightninged so hard the other night I thought that the Big Someone up there had finally decided to use me for target practice. I was seriously fearing for my life.

But as the night went on and I continued to remain in one piece, I figured that the atmospheric discharge was less a matter of my own extermination and more a matter of the freaky heat that settled over the county like a cosmic electric blanket last week.

A lot of things settled over the county recently, come to think of it, including a smell like a thousand farts from evaporating South County lake sludge and a law-enforcement action that rounded up a couple dozen locals, ostensibly on gang-related suspicions.

One is odorous and I'll leave you to figure out which one but it's easier to direct my acerbic wit toward people than necrotic vegetation, so that's where I'm heading this week. After a quick visit to the stinky stuff. I just can't resist.

I'm a big fan of public safety, which is why I'm glad when consumer-watch groups and people's rights organization send out alerts that tell me which foods have been contaminated and which toys will give kids cancer and which chow will send my pet straight to a shoebox a few inches under the daffodils in my backyard. Keep it up, everybody who's watching out for my wellbeing. I love you all.

The county's Air Pollution Control District is on my list of groups to pay attention to, so when I heard that they'd issued a warning besides about smoke from the Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County I stopped up my nose and pricked up my ears. Turns out that the notice came under the heading of "Odor Advisory."

Fortunately, I haven't set foot in South County recently I've been on vacation from the whole county, to tell you the truth so I haven't taken a whiff of the atmosphere myself. From what I can gather, recent high temperatures have lowered some lake levels and are baking the resulting aquatic organic masses into smelly jelly. It's like an anti-air freshener. The pollution control folks described the scent as "sulfuric," which I always associated with rotten eggs, so I can at least sympathize with people who live in Arroyo Grande or below, even if I can't literally smell what they're going through.

Also fortunately, the caution came with the phrase: "No health advisory is issued however, sensitivity to these odors is possible." They've got that right. Ugh. Maybe I'll just hang out in San Simeon, where there's nothing to smell but elephant seals and the last of the summer tourists. Come to think of it, maybe I'll go somewhere else, like North County, which reminds me of the other point I was going to make today, and still will because I've got some more space to fill.

Back when it was still August, a whole buncha groups including Immigration and Customs Enforcement, local cops, and the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department used their long arms to clamp down on about 40 Shandonites and Paso Roblesians. Gang members were the reported goal, at least according to Brian Hascall, who talks for the Sheriff's Department, but when the law decides to move, pretty much anybody's potential fair game.

So did they round up some serious bad guys? Everybody had to assume so in the days after the action. If you cast your net wide enough, you're bound to scoop in some big fish.

But did some smaller fry find themselves getting hauled in too? Everybody would have to assume that as well, and so people panicked, no matter what size they were.

Mostly, though, everybody would have to assume both of the above because the department didn't issue a release about the raids until almost a week after they happened. In the meantime, people started holing themselves up, mortaring themselves brick by brick into safe spots. At least metaphorically. I'd say that fear swept through a good chunk of the North County immigrant population like wildfire, but there've been too many smoking blazes lately to make that an appropriate simile. Suffice it to say that rumors were flying, and a whole lotta people stayed put.

Once the Sheriff's Department finally decided to send out a notice explaining all about the catch, everybody learned what happened. Turns out there were some prize catches. Good job, everybody. But scattered among the suspected gang members and drug charges and parole violations were some mysterious listings "immigration hold," was what it said after their names but apparently those fish were so small the ICE officers decided to throw them back, all the way to L.A. to be deported.

Here's where I say this: Illegal immigrants are breaking the law. It's right there in what they're called.

But here's where I say this: There's justice, and then there's fear. People don't react well to the latter. I know I don't.

Maybe the panic left in the wake of such crackdown operations is unavoidable. Collateral damage. Maybe it's even preferred. If people in this country without the proper documentation see what could happen to them if they're in the wrong place at the wrong time, well, I don't know what. Will they go back home? Call their friends and family and tell them to stay over the border? Or will they stop shopping, keep their kids out of school, and lock themselves in the bathroom for a few days?

Somehow, I don't see the first two options as likely.

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