SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A crowd erupted into loud applause as the Orange County, California, Board of Supervisors passed a resolution against California’s sanctuary-state policies, setting up the potential for the county to join the U.S. Department of Justice’s lawsuit against the state.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of the largely symbolic resolution, which makes official the county’s opposition to state’s hardline stance against enforcing President Donald Trump’s immigration agenda.
Chairman Andrew Do was not present for the meeting.
Supervisor Michelle Steel, herself an immigrant, introduced the resolution and called SB 54 “unconstitutional.” She said there is a “long road ahead to fixing system” but that “law enforcement should cooperate fully” with federal immigration officials.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked the county’s lawyers to either join existing litigation filed this month by the federal government or initiate a separate legal action.
“With [SB54], the State of California is trying to regulate federal immigration detention, which it cannot do under the United States Constitution,” Nelson said in a prepared statement.
The bill, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law after Legislature passed it last year, restricts local law enforcement officials from collaborating with federal immigration authorities, particularly in cases when immigrants may be subject to deportation after being released from custody. It became law on Jan. 1.
On Monday – and in contravention of SB 54 – the Orange County Sheriff's Department announced it would make the release dates of jail inmates publicly available. Federal agencies looking for individuals in custody, including those who are undocumented, will now have easy online access to the information.
Tuesday’s vote adds momentum to the wave of opposition to SB 54 that is growing in some conservative parts of California. Last week, the city of Los Alamitos, also in Orange County, voted 4-1 to opt out of the state’s sanctuary bill, siding with the federal government on immigration policy.
This month, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Sacramento to lay out details of the Justice Department lawsuit filed targeting California’s immigration policies.
Orange County’s supervisors, meanwhile, repeatedly stressed the resolution is about public safety. At least two members invoked the name Kate Steinle, a woman fatally shot by Jose Ines Garcia Zarate in San Francisco.
Zarate, who had been deported to Mexico five times since first entering the United States as a juvenile, was originally charged with murder. While running for president, Trump along with other conservatives frequently invoked the story as a rallying cry against “sanctuary cities.”
In November, a jury acquitted Zarate of murder charges but found him guilty of the lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Members of the public gave comment both for and against the resolution.
Opponents of the resolution argued called it “draconian,” saying it would create distrust between police and immigrants who might not call law enforcement if they are victims of crime out of fear of deportation. Other immigrant advocates slammed the potential of more deportations in the county, saying undocumented people provide a boost to the economy and to the “dynamism and diversity” of the state.
Supporters of the resolution said they are in favor of the Department of Justice suit against the state. They said California’s crumbling infrastructure and deficit are the result of immigrants straining public resources. A Huntington Beach resident argued that money spent on public services for immigrants should go to housing the homeless.
Cynthia Valencia, a member of American Civil Liberties Union, said it was discouraging to see “white supremacist, anti-immigrant politics” promoted in the county.
Valencia, whose Mexican-born parents were granted amnesty in 1985, said the federal government has failed to create a viable pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country.
Supervisor Nelson said he believes the state cannot “direct county employees to refuse to engage in basic cooperation with federal immigration authorities” and that SB 54 “prevents law enforcement from removing criminals” from the county that are a threat to public safety.
Nelson, a Republican, is also running for Congress in the 39th District.
Sue Guilford, president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County, said she supported the sanctuary-state measure.
“[California] is safer when all residents can access resources without having to worry about potential contact with immigration agents,” she said. “We believe in protecting families.”
Alma Leyva, an undocumented youth from Orange County, urged supervisors to oppose “Trump’s racist, immigrant agenda.”
“It is both wrong and wasteful to use county resources to help the federal government deport our neighbors,” she said.
Just before the vote, Supervisor Nelson said the resolution didn’t represent the county “going rogue” but simply affirmed the “duty to protect citizens.”
“[The county] doesn’t have the interest or budget to do the federal government’s job,” he said. “But we can’t ignore all the rules.”
Carlos Perea, a local immigrant rights policy advocate, condemned the resolution, calling it violent and hateful. He said the board was “scapegoating immigrants” for larger problems in the county.
“Our state has changed and this county is changing,” Perea said. “Young people of color in the county are watching you.”
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