Two more Orange County cities on Tuesday will consider jumping into the debate on the so-called sanctuary state law with resolutions or an amicus brief supporting U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s federal lawsuit challenging a part of the legislation.
Seven cities have followed the county’s lead in siding with Sessions against the state. Fullerton decided not to take action at this time and Santa Ana voted for a resolution defending the law.
Los Alamitos’ city council got the ball rolling with a vote to “opt out” of the state law, which city officials say is legal because it is a charter city.
Most cities have decided that an amicus brief is the least expensive and best option to support Sessions’ efforts. Huntington Beach decided to sue to join the federal lawsuit, following Orange County’s lead.
The other cities siding with the federal government are Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Fountain Valley, San Juan Capistrano and Yorba Linda.
Fred Whitaker, the chairman of the Orange County Republican Party and a city councilman in Orange, teamed up with Mayor Pro Tem Mark A. Murphy to propose the city file an amicus brief in support of the federal suit and to reaffirm a resolution the city passed in 2010 on the immigration issue.
“It reaffirms our commitment to federal enforcement of federal immigration laws,” Whitaker said. “The sanctuary city thing is not a new concept. Back in 2010 Orange stood up as a rule-of-law city. So that’s the first thing the resolution does is affirm the 2010 resolution.”
Whitaker said Orange is in a “unique” position on the debate because the city has its own jail, so officials have long coordinated with federal authorities when dealing with a suspect who has questions about his or her immigration status.
“We believe the sanctuary state law is infringing on federal jurisdiction and that creates an unsafe situation,” Whitaker said. “Our primary beef with it is it limits the amount of communication our law enforcement can have with federal law enforcement.”
Whitaker argued that is much safer to have a “custody-to-custody transfer” of suspects from the local agency to the federal government as opposed to letting someone out of the local jail and hoping immigration enforcement authorities can pick them up again to deal with the immigration questions.
Supporters of the state law argue that it does not prevent local officials from notifying federal authorities about violent criminals, only those charged with less serious crimes such as misdemeanors.
Whitaker argued that state laws to reduce prison overcrowding, including some that allow convicts to have felonies reduced to misdemeanors, mean that some violent criminals will be released before ICE can pick them up.
“It is far better if you have someone who is in jail or in custody and them have an immigration issue for us to deal directly with immigration officials rather than let that person back out in our jurisdiction,” Whitaker said. “It’s safer than having ICE go into our neighborhoods to search these people out.”
Whitaker emphasized that the city is addressing an issue of law and order, not the immigration reform debate at large.
“To me, it is primarily a public safety issue,” Whitaker said. “Don’t put the cities in the middle of this. We’re supposed to uphold the federal constitution first and then the state constitution. If I have state legislation directly contradicting federal law and we’re supposed to be enforcing both laws it makes no sense.”
According to a city staff support to Newport Beach City Council members, city officials in August sent a letter to the law’s author, state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, opposing the legislation because of “concerns that SB 54 could create roadblocks and ambiguity when the Newport Beach Police Department participates in crime suppression activities that may involve (but not target) undocumented persons in addition to U.S. citizens and residents and result in inquiries from federal ICE officials.”