City and county officials in Los Angeles have long taken positions on immigration enforcement that could best be described as irresponsible. The city and county adamantly refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement agencies, except under extraordinary circumstances, and would rather turn criminal aliens back on to the streets that turn them over to ICE to be deported.

But recent statements by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti go beyond mere passive irresponsibility and border on encouragement of violent resistance to the federal government’s efforts to enforce immigration laws. In an interview on National Public Radio, Mayor Garcetti warned that, as the result of immigration enforcement activity, the city could witness riots and civil unrest similar to what occurred 25 years ago after the acquittal of police officers involved in the Rodney King beating. Describing a hypothetical situation in which an illegal alien parent is arrested by ICE as he drops his kid off at school, the mayor stated, “If something goes wrong, I fear a tinderbox out there, you know where people will suddenly say ‘no’ and try to defend. You know, keep that person from being taken.”

There may well be a tinderbox out there, but it is a tinderbox created by irresponsible politicians like Eric Garcetti, who have for decades stoked racial and ethnic divisions. Rather than merely disagreeing with federal immigration enforcement policies, ostensibly responsible public officials have recklessly created and then reinforced the notion that immigration enforcement is an attack targeted at particular racial or ethnic groups, or a malicious government assault on family unity.

Having provided the fuel for the tinderbox of ethnic tension, Mayor Garcetti’s statements, along with those of other political leaders in California and other parts of the country amount to handing matches to the professional agitators who now fancy themselves as leaders of a noble resistance movement. In the same NPR interview, Garcetti compared those who are trying to impede immigration enforcement to civil rights heroes of the 1960s who bravely stood up to the likes of Bull Connor and George Wallace.

Garcetti did not say that people should violently resist ICE enforcement actions. But he did not responsibly admonish the hot heads that, no matter how much they might disagree with immigration enforcement efforts, violence of any kind, much less on the scale of the 1992 riots, cannot and will not be tolerated.

Whether the mayor intended to or not, his words signal that if community agitators incite violence in Los Angeles the blame will rest with the people who enforce our immigration laws. To the contrary, if Garcett’s dire premonition should materialize (and let’s all hope it does not), the fault will rest with the politicians who have cynically created the perception that enforcing our nation’s immigration laws is evil and resistance, even violent resistance, is a legitimate response to the legitimate exercise of federal authority.