Costa Mesa is grappling with a projected $16.2-million budget deficit. The city is considering laying off workers and jettisoning valuable after-school and youth sports programs. Fiscal reserves have been used in recent years to pay for day-to-day expenses. The City Council is in highly complex negotiations to acquire control of the state-owned Orange County Fairgrounds.

So what better time for the council to distract itself from the issues that matter by wading into territory over which it has little to no control? An election year fueled by a nationwide debate over illegal immigration, of course.

Four members of the City Council last week — Councilwoman Katrina Foley was absent — voted to declare Costa Mesa a "Rule of Law" city.

This symbolic gesture basically means that undocumented residents are not wanted inside city limits. Mayor Allan Mansoor stated that he does not want anyone to believe that his is a "sanctuary city," though it has always been clear that the city does not encourage the harboring of illegal immigrants. The mayor is running for state Assembly, so we have to question the timing of entering into this debate in the first place.

We're not interested in going into the drawbacks and benefits of immigration. We'd like to see this silly season pandering go away — and it most likely will after the elections. We view immigration as a federal issue, albeit one that has local impact. We also believe that a comprehensive overhaul of federal policy is necessary. We're concerned as well that by wading into this pond, Costa Mesa will anger potential visitors who might end up boycotting the city's wonderful shops, restaurants and arts destinations in what is proving to be a fragile economic recovery.

We want our leaders focused on more pressing issues, namely closing the budget gap and doing their due diligence on the complex deal to buy the fairgrounds, rather than pretending that Costa Mesa is the Arizona of Orange County.