A pro-labor, pro-immigrant march in May
A pro-labor, pro-immigrant march in May
Brian Feinzimer

California Goes Sanctuary While Los Angeles Sits on its Hands

It was a big week for immigrants' rights in California. Saying the Legislature's sanctuary state proposal "ensures hard-working people who contribute to our state are respected," Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed it into law.

It was hailed by pro-immigrant groups such as CHIRLA (the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), whose spokesman, Jorge Mario-Cabrera, said via email that it's "a firewall against ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and the hateful Trump rhetoric." But the signing casts a shadow over Los Angeles City Hall, which has long prided itself on being a bastion of pro-immigrant and progressive values.

Following the election of Donald Trump as president and the enactment of his crackdown against those here illegally, advocates have been pushing the City Council to pass the city's own sanctuary bill. Mayor Eric Garcetti has been reluctant to declare L.A. a true place of sanctuary for the undocumented. In February, speaking about the need for the Trump administration's cooperation with infrastructure funding and the city's successful Olympics bid, the mayor said, "We've never declared ourself a sanctuary city; I'm still not sure what one is."

In a city government that rarely defies the mayor, that speaks volumes about why Los Angeles is not among the state's 35 or so cities that have declared themselves places of sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Alex Comisar, a spokesman for the mayor, said via email that Garcetti "is proud of California’s commitment to protecting the rights, safety and dignity of all people" and that "the mayor will always be committed to building on and preserving that trust."

"Few mayors have done more to bring other mayors together around this concept," says councilmember Gil Cedillo, who has twice introduced sanctuary city resolutions in the council, the most recent yesterday following the signing of the state bill.

Asked why L.A. is lagging behind the massive state lawmaking bureaucracy in coming up with a sanctuary law, Cedillo said the Legislature is bound by strict deadlines, while the council has open-ended deliberations. "We need to make this as broad a movement as possible so we can move our agenda forward," he says.

In June, critics called on the City Council to speed things up. Four months later, they're still waiting.  "I think it is embarrassing that Los Angeles hasn't yet codified its protections for its residents," says Tessie Borden of pro-immigrant group Indivisible Highland Park, which has advised the council on an ongoing sanctuary proposal.

The group last night hosted a town hall meeting "to show City Council member Gil Cedillo the wide and deep support in Los Angeles for a strong sanctuary ordinance that will truly disentangle local police from federal immigration enforcement," according to a statement.

Cedillo's latest proposal, also backed by council president Herb Wesson, is a resolution that would officially declare L.A. a sanctuary city. "A motion will follow, incorporating recommendations made by the [city's] Immigrant Advocate Peter Schey, to further protect Dreamers and other immigrant populations in Los Angeles," according to a statement from his office.

Pro-immigrant leaders say it's an opportunity to go further than the state's sanctuary law, known as the California Values Act. According to the office of the state bill's author, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León of L.A., it "prohibits state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest people for immigration enforcement purposes."

It goes into effect in January — that is, if the Trump administration doesn't successfully block it in court.

Borden of Indivisible Highland Park wants the city to prohibit arrest database sharing with the feds and to knock "quality-of-life" crimes such as street vending and loitering down to ticket-worthy offenses that wouldn't put immigrants under the microscope of U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement agents.

"What the state did was build a floor," she says. "Cities can go higher."

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