Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
LOS ALAMITOS — The American Civil Liberties Union will sue Los Alamitos if its council follows through with approving an ordinance exempting the Orange County municipality from the state’s so-called sanctuary cities law, an ACLU attorney said Tuesday.
The Los Alamitos City Council voted 4-1 Monday to approve the ordinance on first reading, following more than two hours of heated testimony from residents on both sides of the issue. The council is scheduled to take a final vote on April 16, ACLU attorney Sameer Ahmed said.
“We sent them a letter explaining why it is a blatant violation of the law, explaining that the California Values Act is consistent and supported by the constitution, and if they go forward with this ordinance then they will be sued,” Ahmed said.
The ACLU would also seek to have its attorneys’ fees paid and any other sanctions available, he said.
“They are blatantly in violation of state law,” Ahmed said. “A city is obligated to follow state law and they can’t pick or choose which laws to follow.”
City officials in support of the ordinance cite U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit challenging the state’s law providing various protections for undocumented immigrants.
“The Sessions lawsuit only challenges three of the many provisions of the California Values Act,” Ahmed said. “They’re trying to go far beyond what Sessions is doing.”
Even if Sessions prevails, the city would have to comply with other aspects of the state law, he said.
He noted that the city could file an amicus brief in support of Sessions’ lawsuit, as its leaders have signaled, or they could file their own lawsuit challenging the state law.
While the crowd at Monday night’s City Council meeting had dwindled both inside and outside the chamber by the time the vote was taken, some people erupted in cheers and began chanting “USA” while those on the other side of the issue chanted “The people united will never be divided.”
“We are here to stand up to the Trump agenda,” Tim Phan of the Young Democrats told CBS Los Angeles. “It starts in the city councils. It starts in these meetings that traditionally have no transparency.”
Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto introduced the legislation with the support of Mayor Troy Edgar and Councilmembers Shelley Hasselbrink and Richard Murphy. The lone dissenter was Councilmember Mark Chirco, who said adopting it would lead to litigation.
In an interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox News before the vote was taken, Kusumoto said that the response he’s received has been “overwhelmingly supportive of what we’re trying to do … We are just declaring sanctuary from the State of California’s sanctuary law, which is somewhat ironic.”
Asked about Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s controversial decision to issue a public warning about impending ICE raids in the Bay Area, Kusumoto responded, “I think for our jurisdiction, my community, that’s not something I think we would tolerate. We are patriotic, we are a law-abiding community, we’re a small city and we’re just trying to do the best we can given a lot of circumstances that are beyond our control.”
Elaborating on his decision to challenge the state government, which is opposed to President Trump’s immigration policies, Kusumoto said, “There is a joint forces training base, a military installation in our city, there are some employers that deal with the federal government, and my kind of thought is they would have to comply with federal law, and how can we, at least by our own municipal code, enact something that at least affords them that protection to the extent that we can? …
“I’m an engineer by trade, and lawyers make things difficult. When you look at a set of requirements, if they’re conflicting, you pick one or the other, and in this case what I’m suggesting to my colleagues is that we pick the U.S. Constitution over any other conflicting document. That’s the simple, short approach that I’ve taken on this.”
Asked how the state might respond to his legislation, he said, “They might come down on us pretty hard. We get a meager amount of funds from the state capital to carry out our business. A lot of it is just locally derived revenue. So there’ll be some impact and we’ll have to figure out how we might have to reallocate or cut services and live within our means.”
A resident of Los Alamitos since 2000, Kusumoto was first elected to the City Council in 2010 and served as mayor in 2013.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes Los Alamitos, issued a statement supporting the legislation: “I thank the City of Los Alamitos for standing up for its citizens and rejecting the so-called ‘sanctuary’ legislation passed in Sacramento, and I urge the County of Orange and all of our cities to do the same. Senate Bill 54 is dangerous because it blocks local law enforcement from working with federal authorities to remove criminals from our communities.
“Everyone remembers the tragic murder of Kate Steinle, an innocent 32-year-old woman, in 2015. She was shot and killed by an illegal immigrant, Francisco Sanchez, who had already been deported five times and racked up seven felony convictions.
“According to press reports, before the murder, ICE officials asked the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department to inform them when Sanchez would be released so that federal agents could pick him up. But the Sheriff’s Department said, in keeping with ‘sanctuary city’ policies, it does not hold detainees on requests from federal immigration officials unless there is a warrant for their arrest.
“Since Senate Bill 54 became effective on Jan. 1, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department ended its federal 287(g) program, under which Sheriff’s Deputies screened inmates and notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the pending release of incarcerated illegal immigrants.
“We cannot allow this to happen in Orange County. Orange County should follow federal law and fully cooperate with immigration enforcement to identify and arrest dangerous illegal immigrants.
“We need to protect our families and our homes here in Orange County, and that means bolstering our cooperation with federal immigration enforcement and stopping our county from becoming a sanctuary for criminal illegal immigrants.”
Steel has urged the Board of Supervisors to pass a resolution condemning the state law.