SANTA CLARITA — The debate over California’s immigration laws raged on in Santa Clarita as the City Council formally opposed the state’s so-called sanctuary law and filing a brief in support of the Trump administration’s lawsuit against the state.
Santa Clarita became what is believed to be the first city in Los Angeles County to officially oppose Senate Bill 54, potentially joining a handful of municipalities elsewhere in Southern California that have challenged the law since Gov. Jerry Brown signed it in October.
The council chambers was packed Tuesday night, with people standing in aisles and doorways and spilling out into an overflow room as 200 had signed up to speak. Many wore red “Make America Great Again” caps. Some snacked on popcorn while others cooled themselves with fans.
Some said SB 54, which limits cooperation by local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities, would promote criminality, while others said it would make communities safer. Some cited legal explanations for why the law violates the Constitution, while others argued California was within its rights.
“I don’t understand. When these people have committed a crime … why can’t one agency be able to call another agency?” Annette Burns said.
“California has overreached,” Susan Agnes, a resident and mother of two said.
The atmosphere was often tense, punctuated by moments of levity. Audience members repeatedly heckled and booed one another, prompting reprimands from Mayor Laurene Weste — including a brief lesson on the 1st Amendment. Some yelled “line cutter,” “no signs” or “Time!” to enforce the rules. At one point the audio cut out and someone shouted, “Russians!”
More often than not, testimony veered into the broader immigration debate and the symbolism of the resolution. By 9:30 p.m., about 100 people were still in line to speak.
“I consider myself a patriot,” said Alex Reza, a Newhall resident and veteran. “I also consider myself a person who appreciates the tremendous contributions of immigrants, both documented and undocumented.
“By opposing SB 54, you are sending a loud message to Latino communities that [Santa Clarita] is not a family-friendly city,” he continued.
In March, Los Alamitos approved an ordinance claiming exemption from SB 54. That same month, Orange County signed on to the federal lawsuit against California over SB 54 and other laws protecting immigrants. Huntington Beach has also sued California in state court.
Two weeks ago, a resolution by San Dimas City Councilman Ryan Vienna to oppose SB 54 failed, though he has personally filed a brief supporting the federal lawsuit.
Now, some in Santa Clarita hope the city will succeed where San Dimas did not.
“I feel very strongly that this whole thing of having a sanctuary state and sanctuary cities is ridiculous,” City Councilman Bob Kellar, who initiated discussion on this issue, told the Santa Clarita Valley Signal in March. “We are putting our American citizens at additional risk and there’s no question about this — it’s costing our state ungodly billions of dollars.”
Outside the City Council chambers Tuesday afternoon, about 150 demonstrators and counter-demonstrators lined up ahead of the meeting.
On one side of the building, protesters opposed to the resolution chanted “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” They carried signs in English and Spanish that said “Immigrants = America” and “Not all Santa Clarita are proud racists,” a reference to a remark Kellar previously made saying he was “a proud racist.”
On the other side, counter-demonstrators wearing “We [heart] I.C.E.” pins and President Trump neckties waved American flags and sang the national anthem. Occasionally they traveled over to the opposing side, shouting “socialists” and “Speak English, you’re in the United States.”
About a dozen sheriff’s deputies stood watch.
Raagib Quraishi, 30, a Santa Clarita resident and business owner, called Tuesday’s resolution “useless.”
“This clearly does not effect any change in laws,” he said. “It only brought out hate.”
Matt Thurman, 42, another Santa Clarita resident, disagreed.
“It’s not about racism, it’s not about hate,” Thurman said. “It’s about people that are here illegally that got caught doing something wrong.”
The resolution will be voted on by Santa Clarita’s five-member City Council.
If approved, it would simply state the city’s opposition to provisions in SB 54 that conflict with federal law. The law, which went into effect Jan. 1, prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal authorities in many cases when individuals potentially subject to deportation are about to be released from custody.
Santa Clarita’s resolution would also direct the city attorney to file a brief in support of the Trump administration’s lawsuit against the state of California “if and when appropriate.” (A hearing on the administration’s request for a preliminary injunction is scheduled for June. The deadline for submitting briefs supporting or opposing the administration was April 6.)
The measure is largely symbolic. Santa Clarita contracts with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services and is bound by that department’s policies, including on immigration.
Still, “symbolic politics is a part of politics,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
“This is an opportunity to mobilize the conservative base around the issue that most animates the conservative base, which is immigration,” Sonenshein said. “It doesn’t mean that the City Council has the power to change anything right now … but it elevates the issue and certainly Republicans see it as an issue that might bring people to the polls.”
Santa Clarita is the fourth-largest city in L.A. County, with a population of about 180,000. About 32 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to 2016 census estimates.
The area voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election but elected Republicans in down-ballot congressional and state races.
In this year’s midterm elections, Rep. Steve Knight, R-Lancaster, who represents the 25th Congressional District including the Santa Clarita Valley, faces a challenge from four Democrats: Bryan Caforio, Jess Phoenix, Mary Pallant and Katie Hill.
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