L.A. Is Poised to Defy Trump by Creating an Official City "Immigrant Advocate"

A protester at a Nov. 12 anti-Trump March in downtown L.A.
A protester at a Nov. 12 anti-Trump March in downtown L.A.
Brian Feinzimer

In a move that could put Los Angeles City Hall on a collision course with the White House of President-elect Donald Trump, City Council president Herb Wesson today announced he's proposing that a new city position be created: immigrant advocate. The purpose of the job would be to "protect residents against mass deportations" and to "ensure the city continues to receive all grants, loans and other eligible federal funding," according to a statement from his office.

The motion to explore creating the position, and to explore creating an ad hoc committee on immigrant affairs, is a response to Trump's vow to deport at least 3 million of an estimated 11 million immigrants in the United States illegally. Wesson's proposal is scheduled to be heard by the City Council on Tuesday. He announced his intention in a letter to the council: "In the aftermath of the election of Donald J. Trump as president of the United States, many residents throughout the city of Los Angeles and our region are deeply concerned about the uncertainty that change will bring with respect to immigration policies."

"I'm not itching for a fight" with the Trump administration, Wesson says in a phone interview. "I'm itching to protect the city I love. I want to be prepared, in the event anything happens, to defend this city and our policies. I want to be prepared for anything."

He wants the city's top administrative officer and chief legislative analyst to help figure out what the immigrant advocate would do, define the contentious term "sanctuary city," figure out what federal revenue Trump could deny the city if its officials don't cooperate with his deportation plans, and determine what federal laws City Hall might be defying if it moves forward with Wesson's proposal.

The council president said he envisions an immigrant advocate as "someone who knows the ins and outs of immigration law and who could be an adviser to the council and mayor's office." He also said it's important to figure out exactly how much cash the city gets from Washington and what amounts might be in jeopardy if the city resists Trump's will.

"We get millions and millions from the federal government for law enforcement, transportation, homeless shelters," Wesson said. "Would any of that be in jeopardy? Let's find that out."

He said Councilman Gil Cedillo, who represents many immigrant communities northeast and just west of downtown, has agreed to chair the proposed ad hoc committee on immigrant affairs.

Wesson's office said in a statement that he was "alarmed" by Trump's stance on those here illegally. His district includes immigrant-heavy communities such as Koreatown, Little Bangladesh and Little Ethiopia. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has already reaffirmed the department's policy not to enforce federal immigration law and not to stop people based solely on any suspicion they might be undocumented.

"We commend the leadership of one of the largest immigrant hubs in the country," Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), said in an email to L.A. Weekly. "Dark days are ahead, but Los Angeles and indeed most Americans of good conscience will not sit idly by while community after community is targeted by President-elect Trump's bigoted administration."

The nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute says about one in 10 people in Los Angeles County is undocumented and that 1 million of the 11 million people in the United States illegally reside here. Wesson, citing U.S. Census Bureau figures, says 38.6 percent of the city's residents were born abroad. More than half of them are not citizens, he said in his letter to the council. He argued that as many as one out of five Angelenos, then, could be uprooted or affected by Trump's immigration policies.


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