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Council supports fed lawsuit against ‘sanctuary state’

Photo by Cameron Niven

After two hours and more than 60 speakers for and against, the Escondido City Council Wednesday night voted 4-1 to file an amicus brief supporting the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit challenging SB 54, the “California Values Act” aka the “sanctuary state”  law that binds the hands of local police to cooperate with, or even communicate with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) officers.

The speeches, limited to two minutes, were often impassioned—with sentiments roughly divided between near absolute support for the rights of immigrants to live in the U.S. unmolested versus the view that they are lawbreakers and police should be allowed to remove them. There were also speeches by candidates for congress, mayor, president and state assembly.

Last month U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions filed a lawsuit against the Golden State to force it to cooperate with federal law enforcement officials in the enforcement of immigration laws. The Orange County Board of Supervisors recently voted 4-0 to join the U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit. Supervisor Dianne Jacob introduced a similar motion that will go before the San Diego Board of Supervisors on April 17 during a closed session.

The council did not vote on that issue. Instead, Escondido’s Mayor Sam Abed put the amicus brief motion on the consent calendar of the April 4 city council meeting. That motion led to the long discussion.

After the two hours of testimony Abed declared, “I was elected mayor to uphold the constitution and keep our community safe. Public safety is our top priority.” He said that illegal immigrants who were not otherwise lawbreakers were less safe after SB 54 became law. “This is simply an assault on our sovereignty and ability to govern. Escondido is proud to support this lawsuit. SB 54 the ‘Value Act’ does not represent our values,” said the mayor.

Before that testimony and vote City Attorney Michael R. McGuinness had clarified that the motion before the council was not to sue the state, but to file a “friend of the court” brief supporting the lawsuit, and explain to the court how SB 54 affects the city. “More important, the city wouldn’t be defying the state,” he said, noting that the city continues to comply with state law, “until and unless the court rules otherwise.”

McGuinness noted that the U.S. complaint is that California may not enact laws that interfere with the federal government’s ability to enforce federal immigration law.

McGuinness said the state law required that the city rewrite police department policies as of January. One result was that ICE agents were not longer allowed in the police headquarters. “We’ve ceased communication and cooperating with ICE,” he said.

Police Chief Craig Carter told the council that the state law, “put us in a very difficult spot. I can tell you that prior to the law we had ICE officiers in the station and we cooperated with each other.” Any relationship between EPD and ICE is not longer allowed. “We have no way to find out if they have prior charges. In order to get that information we would have to talk to ICE. It’s a Catch 22 for my officers,” said the chief.

Senate Bill 54 makes it illegal for local police to cooperate with ICE or notify it when they have undocumented aliens in custody who could be deported.

The motion before the council was as follows: “It is requested that the City Council adopt Resolution No. 2018-52 authorizing the filing of a Motion for Leave to File Amicus Curiae Brief and Amicus Brief on behalf of the City of Escondido in support of the United States in the action United States of America v. State of California, United States District Court Case No. 2:18-cv-00490-JAM (KJN).”

April 5, 2017 the council adopted Resolution No. 2017-55 opposing the passage of California Senate Bill (SB) 54, the “California Values Act.”

“What I heard from our PD was that were prevented from assisting with criminals in our city. Our relationship with ICE disappeared. I swore to uphold the constitution of the U.S. and that’s part of what we are talking about,” said Councilman John Masson. “I want control back to where we can actually work with ICE. This is not about immigration, it is about enforcing our laws.”

El Gallo said, “I’m curious how a constitutional item became an ethic issue?” He said he recieved lots of emails on the issue. “I have to tell you, the pros severely outnumbered the cons.” He added, “Why, even though a lot of people hate this country, it’s still, despite its warts, the greatest country on earth.” He added that SB 54 prevents our police from doing their job.”

Mike Morasco, read the oath of office. “That’s an important oath, to defend the constituton, and this issue is a matter of constitutional law. I personally believe California has overstepped its authority.” He said that he had heard “a lot of deep seated feelings, a lot of hatred, a lot of bigotry. We saw it all. It all came about because the state legislature and governor wanted to do everything they could to buck the federal government and Trump. They were specific when they said this was an anti-Trump view. Now we will find out if it’s unconstitutional.”

He said he didn’t think the law had a right to prevent him from interacting with ICE as a businessman. “That’s a first amendment right that I have,” he said.

Council member Olga Diaz said she had been “around this issue for many times,” since 2006. It inspired her to run for the city council. “Those words hurt and they made me angry and run for office.” She added, “There’s absolutely zero to be gained by this action except for political grandstanding.”She said the state law is “about creating better relations between law enforcement.”

“It is named the ‘California Values Act,’ not the ‘sanctuary state,” she said, “It doesn’t eliminate the ability of the police to work with ICE; it requires the procedure be put in writing. It’s important to read the content of this law. I’m not offended by SB 54. I know it creates challenges but it also creates opportunities.”

Speaking about federal immigration law she said, “For us to say ‘you broke the law’ when the law itself is broken is wrong.” She added, “It’s of absolutely zero consequence whether the city participates in this amicus brief or not.”

Diaz said she wants to organize a forum “outside of this sterile environement” “to have a discussion” on how to address these issues. “I’m not going to support this. I think it’s a waste of time.” She said she was used to four to one votes.

The final vote was 4-1, with Diaz voting no.

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