- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A man whose son was killed by an immigrant said Wednesday that he and other advocates will mount a drive to try to overturn California’s sanctuary law, putting the question directly to voters in a ballot initiative that, if it succeeds, would force police to share information with federal deportation authorities.

Don Rosenberg said they hope to file their initiative later this week, kicking off a six-month drive to get enough signatures, which could send the matter to voters in 2019 or 2020.

“This will be David versus Goliath. We’re clearly David on this side. But there are millions of Davids here,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

It’s the latest move in what has become a high-stakes battle over SB54, the state law that severely limits state and local police and sheriff’s departments in their ability to communicate or work with the Department of Homeland Security.

California’s Democratic leaders pushed SB54 through the Legislature late last year to try to stymie President Trump’s push to step up immigration enforcement. Now communities within California are mounting rebellions against the state, sparking ferocious fights in city halls.



Huntington Beach City Council members voted Monday to mount a legal challenge to SB54 and invited other communities to join them.

But a day later and an hour’s drive north, the city of West Covina shot down a similar effort. The mayor’s suggestion to join Huntington Beach was unable to even get a second from the other four members of the City Council.

West Covina is a better city than this,” said council member James Toma, criticizing Mayor Mike 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 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. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra last week issued guidance saying 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 the president, 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.

Mr. Rosenberg, whose son was killed in a traffic crash by an unlicensed immigrant in the U.S. under special humanitarian protections, said he and other opponents of sanctuary cities began to gain the upper hand after Los Alamitos, a small community in Orange County, voted last month to defy SB54.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department then announced a workaround to SB54, saying it would post all of its inmates’ release information online, making it available to anyone — including deportation officers.

“I would say now we’re winning for two reasons. One, there is pushback, and two, it’s getting media attention out here that wouldn’t have been gotten prior,” Mr. Rosenberg said. “The momentum has shifted.”

He said he and his allies are still working on final language for their ballot initiative but that it will require police to provide reasonable cooperation with federal authorities. Local police won’t be required to arrest people for immigration violations but will be pushed to share what information they do have about immigration status so federal officers can do their jobs.

The initiative will also give private citizens a way to make sure their local officials are complying, he said.

“As much as people try to paint this as a conservative or a liberal agenda item, right and left, it’s really right and wrong,” he said. “I would say many of the people on the left, individually, if they had a choice to vote on this issue — which they will — they will vote with us.”

Immigrant rights activists are mounting a fierce defense of SB54.

Joseph Villela, policy director at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, the largest immigrant rights organization in California, blamed an “emboldened racist and anti-immigrant wind” for pushing the anti-SB54 rebellion.

“Californians should not be fooled by the hateful rhetoric and fearmongering. Let us be very clear about what this dog whistle effort really is: a coordinated effort to lie to the California electorate for political gain,” he said.

He compared the ballot initiative effort to Proposition 187, the 1990s-era initiative to deny illegal immigrants access to state services. Prop 187 passed but was stymied in the courts. It also sparked a massive backlash among the state’s immigrant community and a political shake-up that turned California from Republican-leaning to solidly Democratic.

In West Covina, where the debate over whether to join the rebellion stretched for five hours Tuesday night, immigrant rights activists said the fight is about political power and money. They warned that residents — and their tax dollars — will flee cities joining the rebellion.

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 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. He said 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 has led to sweeps where agents and officers have to go out into 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.”

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