The anti-sanctuary city movement won a victory in Huntington Beach this week where the city voted to challenge California’s SB54, the new sanctuary law, but stumbled late Tuesday when West Covina refused to sign on board the growing rebellion.
During deeply divisive hearings immigrants, city residents and others with an interest in the outcome of the fight battled back and forth in speeches and chants, accusing each other of undermining their community’s safety and tearing at the fabric of American society.
In Huntington Beach the anti-sanctuary forces prevailed, as the city council voted 6-1 on Monday to mount a legal challenge to try to stop SB54.
A day later and an hour’s drive north West Covina’s city council rejected calls to join the legal battle. Mayor Mike Spence’s motion couldn’t even get a second from the four other members of his council.
“West Covina is a better city than this,” said Councilmember James Toma, criticizing Mr. Spence for forcing the fight.
The cities’ divergence mirrors the larger battle in the country, where some states — with California leading the way — are attempting to pursue sanctuary policies to thwart the federal government’s immigration enforcement, and other states, led by Texas, are moving to embrace and shore up cooperation with deportation efforts.
SB54, one of three new sanctuary laws enacted last year California, limits the amount of cooperation state and local police and sheriff’s departments can provide to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the chief deportation agency, and to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which mans the borders.
Under SB54, authorities are banned from asking about immigration status and are severely restricted from sharing that information or in any other way cooperating with federal immigration authorities.
The actual reach of SB54 is still being hashed out, though, with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week issuing guidance saying that police can in fact share information about citizenship or immigration status with federal authorities in order to be in compliance with a federal law that ties hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds to cooperation.
Symbolically, however, SB54 has become much more.
Anti-Trump forces see it as a major blow to President Trump, who made immigration enforcement a major part of his campaign and has attempted to follow through on those promises now in office. Pro-Trump voters have rallied to their president and responded with vitriol to sanctuary backers.
In West Covina the forces clashed across the city council’s lectern, with pro-sanctuary backers citing scripture and recalling their own encounters with immigration. One woman told of her grandmother being deported recently for what the woman described as minor crimes. Another, who said she used to be in the country illegally, said she was sexually assaulted and didn’t fear reporting the crime at the time — but would now, if California lost SB54.
But Mr. Spence, the city mayor who tried to have the city join the legal battle against SB54, said the city is put in a bind by the law. He pointed to the example of a deportable migrant picked up for domestic violence.
“We cannot contact ICE, but we cannot let him go home,” Mr. Spence said.
He faced jeers from the pro-sanctuary activists for his claim but he persisted, saying that the chief effect of SB54 was to prevent the state’s prisons and jails from being able to turn over criminals for deportation. ICE says that’s led to sweeps where agents and officers have to go out into the communities to pick up people they were blocked from taking custody of in prison.
“The result of ICE being forced out to round people up in the community has been, as some of you have said, collaterals,” Mr. Spence said. “if you want to protect DACA we need to stop that and let them get people in the jails.”