More city councils in Orange County are primed to revolt against the California Values Act with Huntington Beach voting to legally challenge it last night. The anti-Sanctuary State backlash is poised to spread to San Juan Capistrano, Aliso Viejo, Fountain Valley and Fullerton this week. Following Los Alamitos’ lead, Yorba Linda and Mission Viejo already moved forward last month on filing legal documents in support of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ lawsuit against sanctuary legislation.
The Orange County Board of Supervisors, led by Shawn Nelson, who as a Fullerton city councilman wanted to whitewash historic Chicano murals on Lemon Street, also passed a resolution last week and joined in supporting the federal legal effort.
Kicking off the second wave, Huntington Beach council chambers turned into a giant echo chamber of anti-immigrant sentiment last night. Mayor Mike Posey put out a statement ahead of the meeting that set the tone. “Your City Council has a priority of ensuring the safety for all its residents,” he wrote. “SB54, AB450, and AB103 all represent a threat to public safety.” Accordingly, anti-immigrant speakers who packed the meeting railed against “illegal alien criminals” while assailing the California Values Act as a “Trojan horse” for an “invasion.”
Whenever people spoke in favor of SB 54, a chorus of sneers sounded, only mildly disciplined when Posey threatened to suspend the meeting. But when HB activist Oscar Rodriguez actually cut through the political theater by criticizing Posey for being uninterested real local control–like when the Oak View neighborhood fought against the foul smells of Rainbow Disposal’s garbage dump and the mayor stayed firmly in their pocket–he hastily suspended the meeting before taking a five minute recess. The naked xenophobia from the public comments podium resumed after that spat, and council finally got around to voting 6-1 to file a lawsuit challenging SB 54.
The so-called Sanctuary State law at the center of the controversy puts limits on state and local cooperation with federal immigration enforcement. It’s meant to act as a buffer for California against any mass deportations of undocumented immigrants under President Donald Trump’s administration. The California Values Act, which became law at the start of this year, does allow for people to be turned over to immigration authorities if found to have committed a crime not protected by previous Trust Act legislation. In seeking a resolution condemning SB 54, San Juan Capistrano is up next this evening thanks to city councilwoman Pam Patterson. “It cripples our law enforcement and creates a threat to public safety,” the agenda memo reads. San Juan Capistrano’s draft resolution closely mirrors the language of the one passed by OC supervisors last week.
Zealous anti-immigrant politics in San Juan Capistrano framed a legal challenge to its at-large election system in arguing such vitriol hampered the ability of Latino voters to elect council members of their choice. After switching to single-member districts in 2016, the city’s most Latino district elected Sergio Farias to council. He enjoyed the support of Kim McCarthy, a prominent anti-immigrant activist, in an unlikely partnership during the campaign. But the relationship has since fractured. In his past activist life, Farias challenged checkpoints and deportations that harassed San Juan Capistrano’s undocumented residents. Now, as mayor, he’s ready to voice opposition to his city joining in on the anti-Sanctuary State trend.
“This is why the Republican Party is a minor party in the most important state in the country,” Farias says. Despite the rhetoric of the resolution implying undocumented immigrants protected by the California Values Act constitute a “threat to public safety,” the mayor is thankful that, at least, there’s no push to join Sessions’ suit. “Fortunately, that’s the not the case but it’s still not the kind of thing that we want as a city. It’s unnecessarily divisive.”
In Fullerton, council members Greg Sebourn and Jennifer Fitzgerald want the city to explore ways of supporting the Sessions suit this evening. Fullerton chief of police David Hendricks wrote a memo on his department’s compliance with both the Trust Act and the California Values Act. “The Fullerton Police Department does receive immigration detainers on persons we arrest,” Hendricks wrote. He noted that ICE sends, on average, three to four such requests a month. But most arrested people usually don’t stay longer than a couple of hours because of bail postings, citation and “own recognizance” releases. “Inmates are typically already out of custody by the time the detainer request is received.”
Tomorrow evening, Aliso Viejo city council will take its turn. Mayor David Harrington is proposing action on an agenda item that would direct the city attorney to file Amicus Curiae in support of Los Alamitos and the board of supervisors in the Sessions’ suit. Council members could also consider a “Joinder” option in the legal challenge. Aliso Viejo is also reviewing a “rule of law” resolution.
The city’s draft resolution doesn’t call out the California Values Act by name, but states that “when State law conflicts with the Federal law, the Federal law shall be the supreme law of the land as specified in the United States Constitution.” Leaving no ambiguity that the notion applies to immigration, the resolution also notes that those who come to the United States in search of a better life have the “responsibility to adhere to the rule of law.”
But for as decidedly conservative as the south county city is, it’s also a college town thanks to Soka University. Various student groups–from the Pan African Student Union to Queeriosity–are planning to protest and speak out at tomorrow evening’s council meeting. “We are mobilizing to send a consistent message that we do not tolerate any injustice or bigotry against a group of people based solely on what negative stereotypes are attributed to them,” says Angel Escobedo, a trans woman who’s a member Queeriosity and also Chicanos Unidos. “Aliso Viejo is accustomed to going unchallenged.”
Student activists are working with the Laguna Beach Democratic Club and We Are San Juan grassroots immigrant rights group ahead of tomorrow’s council meeting. “Just because we are small in number doesn’t mean our voices don’t matter,” Escobedo says. The fourth-year international studies Soka student is considering a future in immigration law after graduating, which further motivates her to push back on the council effort. “There are people here who are not all-white and they need to be represented, too.”
Gabriel San Roman is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and tallest Mexican in OC.