By Miriam Raftery and Rebecca Jefferis Williamson
March 31, 2017 (El Cajon )—El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells is leading efforts among local officials opposed to Senate Bill 54, which would declare California a sanctuary state. Officials from several local cities joined Wells in a press conference March 29th at the El Cajon Police Department, where about 25 protesters who support the sanctuary measure also turned out.
Opponents of SB 54 claim it would make communities less safe and put federal funds at risk. They have launched their own website, www.mayorsforsafecities.org.
Critics disagree, and one local official contends that backers of the Safe Cities website have disseminated "alternative facts" that mislead the public on SB 54.
Here are the facts.
Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions repeated President Donald Trump’s threat to withhold Justice Department grants used for state and local law enforcement from states, counties, cities or even schools that offer “sanctuary” protections to undocumented immigrants, the Washington Post reports.
So it’s true that funds could be jeopardized, though the federal government has not yet defined what constitutes sanctuary status. But the legality of Session’s threat to withhold funds from sanctuary jurisdictions is also in question.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law , contends, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions seeks to create a police state in which local and state law enforcement are acting at the behest of the federal government to round up immigrants in communities across the country. Cities seeking to comply with the constitution and protect immigrant communities should be able to do so without heavy-handed threats from the federal government. We will continue to stand up against this administration’s actions that promote unlawful profiling and xenophobia.”
As for California’s Senate Bill 54 (DeLeon), Mayor Wells stated before the event, “It would make the city more unsafe.” Wells contends that if SB 54 passes, cities would have to accept released felons and could not communicate with federal authorities. (View video of press conference)
Wells says that nine local mayors are in agreement. “We will sign up as many as possible and allow council members, and school board members to join.” He adds, “We are asking every mayor in California and asking any citizens to join our effort.”
Santee Councilman Brian Jones contends that “SB 54 protects illegal felons” and urged citizens to write the Governor to oppose the measure. Jones, a former Assembly member, added, “I served with authors of SB54. I know their hearts and what they are trying to accomplish. But it cuts off relationships.”
“Reality is limited funds, limited resources to provide for public safety on a local level,” said La Mesa Councilmember Kristine Alessio. “This is not about immigrants. This is about criminals.”
Escondido’s Mayor Sam Abed denounced the bill—and threatened legal action. “I am a proud immigrant myself. We have reduced our crime. Why? We deported. When ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) comes to our city we get gang members out. We have support from our Hispanic community,” he claimed, then added, “Mark my words; if SB 54 passes I’m willing to sue.”
Others in attendance included Poway Mayor Steve Vaus and San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond. La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis and Santee Mayor John Minto are listed on the SD Rostra site as supporters of the Safe Cities measure and opponents of SB 54. Lemon Grove Mayor Raquel Vasquez is not listed and did not return an email from ECM asking her position.
Not all in attendance agreed with officials trying to kill passage of SB54. Protestors held signs up that said “Disagree” and “There are no illegal humans.”
A question and answer segment was held for attendees to address the officials with individual questions after the news conference had ended.
Chants of “Shame on You” and “Vote them out” erupted at the end from the protestors.
Senate Bill 54, as referenced on the California Legislative website states in part: “This bill, among other things, prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”
But some local elected officials have a different view of the measure and noted that other portions of the bill do allow communication on immigration status.
La Mesa Councilmember Colin Parent told ECM in an e-mail, “Every jurisdiction in the San Diego region already has a policy not to use local law enforcement resources to enforce federal immigration law, which I strongly support.” (You can watch statements from the La Mesa Chief of Police about why that policy is important to ensure public safety online here: http://www.cityoflamesa.com/CivicMedia?VID=73 (beginning at 53:45)
Parent added, “The opponents of SB 54 seem to be relying on "alternative facts" to scare the public. The bill explicitly does not limit state and local officials from communicating with federal authorities, as required by federal law.” He provided the following “relevant bill text” from the Cailfornia Legislature’s site:
(f) This section does not prohibit or restrict any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, federal immigration authorities, information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of an individual pursuant to Sections 1373 and 1644 of Title 8 of the United States Code.
Lemon Grove Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza said she was withholding comment until she has time to read the state bill. But she advised, “Lemon Grove proclaimed itself to be a Welcoming City last year. All council members voted in favor of this proclamation.
That resolution recognized the diversity of Lemon Grove residents and affirmed that the city “ recognizes that all people are deserving of the assurance of the basic principles of equity and human rights guaranteed to all people by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
Mendoza added, “As far as becoming a sanctuary city or state, my feeling is that I would like to see our law enforcement officers kept busy rounding up the drug dealers, murderers, rapists, pimps, drunk drivers, burglars, car thieves, etc. I don't support law enforcement officers spending unnecessary time checking IDs at schools, libraries, public transit, places of worship, etc. to check for immigration offenses. However, if they arrest someone committing a crime, who is also in this country illegally, then that person should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
SB 54, which has been amended, is expected to be voted on soon.