The Ridgecrest City Council decided at its meeting Wednesday to investigate filing some sort of formal opposition to SB54, California's sanctuary state law.
Options discussed include filing an amicus brief supporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions' federal lawsuit against California, joining an existing amicus brief doing the same, or passing some sort of resolution stating objections to California's sanctuary state law and/or stating support for the federal government's immigration policy. According to City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen, an amicus brief means literally “friend of the court” and is filed to indicate agreement with one side or the other in a lawsuit ― without actually joining the suit.
Council decided not to consider taking independent legal action opposing the law, for fear that it would open the city ― which is a general law city ― up to potential lawsuits from the ACLU and/or the state of California.
Council took no vote or formal action but directed Pilchen to investigate the finer points of the options regarding Amicus briefs and formal objections to the state law. Ultimately it was decided Pilchen would try to submit an agenda item in time for the next council meeting May 16 and add a staff report with additional information as an agenda amendment.
The item was presented by Councilman Wallace Martin, who was tasked by Mayor Peggy Breeden to investigate the issue. Martin reported that the League of California Cities is not taking an official stand on the issue. Martin, however, recommended that the city make some sort of official statement of disagreement with the California law.
Martin's argument was that immigration is a federal issue “not a state by state issue” and that the sanctuary state law “flagrantly” defies the constitution.
Martin also noted that joining an existing amicus brief or passing a resolution would have little or no fiscal impact on the city.
He added that the gesture would be largely symbolic but, “in my opinion it is still critical that we stand up as a city and join the many forces and the many voices around the state telling the voices of extremism we have had quite enough and its time to begin reversing the damaging effects of so many recent, extreme laws.”
The topic kicked off a lively session of public comment, with equal numbers of people speaking up in favor of and in opposition to Martin's recommendation.
Ron Porter said he was concerned about being forced into aiding and abetting illegal immigrants if following state law.
“It's an invasion, whether they be armed or not, it's an invasion,” he said. “We have to say, these are borders we have a reason.”
Thomas Wiknich said he supported Martin's recommendation. He read a list of roughly a dozen jurisdictions ― city and county, mostly in Orange County ― that have made some sort of statement of disagreement with the sanctuary state law.
Wiknich added he thinks the sanctuary state law may have had the unintended consequence of forcing ICE agents to conduct more extensive raids.
“I have some concerns about the opposition to this sanctuary city thing,” Kevin LaBrie said. “I don't understand why we need to utilize local resources and finances and manpower for something that is under federal control.”
LaBrie expressed concerns over what he described as federal overreach.
“Why are we allowing the federal government to act outside of its powers to do unwarranted searches and raids? You should have a warrant.”
Peggy Richter spoke up in favor of Martin's recommendation.
“Federal government has the power to defend our borders and protect us from invasion,” she said. “We are either a country of laws or we aren't. If someone is illegally here, they are an invader, period.”
Francisco Cruz said he joined the US military but not as a citizen.
“I didn't get my citizenship until I got back from Iraq. Twice,” Cruz said.
“I do not agree with this. As an immigrant, It sets a bad example. It puts Ridgecrest on the map as not immigrant friendly.” He noted that Ridgecrest may become known nation-wide as opposing the law.
He also stated that in his opinion people in the country illegally are not necessarily criminals.
Justin Shatto argued that the problem with making a symbolic gesture was that it might not represent the views of the entire community.
“You said this is largely symbolic,” Shatto. “My point is you are doing a symbolic gesture for the entire city which doesn't apply to a lot of the community . . . I personally would not agree with it.”
Kathleen Williamson LaBrie, noting she is a former resident of several of the Orange County cities mentioned, and said, “that list of towns is a list of super white towns, super-rich towns and are not the majority of the population base in Orange County.”
She said she wondered what the residents of Anaheim and Santa Ana, “which vastly exceed the populations of those other communities have to say about sanctuary status.”
Referring to the “In God We Trust” banner prominently displayed on the wall of council chambers, LaBrie said, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph were illegal immigrants to Egypt when they needed to be and no one kicked them out.”
Mike Neel suggested taking stronger action if council really feels the laws are wrong.
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Mower said that as a business owner, the sanctuary state law puts him “between a rock and a hard spot” because he is required by the federal government to verify new employees' legal status as part of the hiring process.
Councilwoman Lindsey Stephens said she finds it “concerning” that the state of California is willing to pay legal fees for those facing deportation.
“That seems like an irresponsible use of state tax dollars,” Stephens said.
Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas alone questioned the action of formally opposing the California sanctuary state law.
Thomas called the commentary “a good, healthy discussion.” He said that immigration issues have been long debated, “but this really didn't come to a head until our president brought this up in reference to talking people coming over here. That's how it got heated up and really going.”
Thomas alluded to discrimination in the way laws are enforced in the US.
“Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we know that the laws are in place for us to follow. But it's a scary thing when you have those that have the law but don't apply the law equally across the board. To say that we are a nation of law but we don't follow the law, or we implement the law when its beneficial to us. To some degree, I take offense to it too because some of the people who have been through this process have not been treated fairly. If we are going to protect we've got to protect all people and we've got to be fair to all people,” he said.
Thomas also questioned whether any action at all was necessary.
“I am not so sure why we have to do this,” he said. “Our own president's wife is supposed to have come through some difficulties coming over here.”
Thomas also earlier asked whether any of the cities filing opposition to the sanctuary state law “are known for going after a particular group of people, making sure they are removed?” Martin said, no, and characterized it as more a general constitutional issue.
The Daily Independent will continue to follow this story.