La Puente, a city of 40,000 in the San Gabriel Valley whose population is 85 percent Latino, has declared itself a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants, in a resolution passed by the City Council on Jan. 10.
City officials say the public turned out in droves to attend the vote, a tense and anxious crowd filling the 50 seats in council chambers, with nearly as many people standing outside. When the vote was taken and the resolution passed 4-0, the audience in the chamber erupted in cheers and a prolonged chant in Spanish of Si se pudo, or "yes we did," until Mayor Valery Muñoz called the meeting back to order.
La Puente is the latest in a wave of municipalities and school districts in the L.A. area to declare themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants in the wake of the 2016 election. A sanctuary city is one that refuses to cooperate in the detention or removal of immigrants, or to allow Immigration and Customs Enforcement to access city data on the immigration status of residents. President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to cut federal funding to sanctuary cities that refuse to cooperate with ICE.
Santa Ana in Orange County passed a similar resolution in December. That same month, in response to Trump’s election, school districts in the cities of San Bernardino, Bassett and Montebello declared themselves sanctuaries; other districts such as Pasadena Unified and L.A. Unified declared their schools “safe zones.”
In a related move, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved on Jan. 10 the creation of an Office of Immigrant Affairs to coordinate and facilitate access to countywide services for immigrants.
By declaring themselves sanctuaries, La Puente and the other local entities effectively enter the fray against President-elect Trump, standing up against his campaign promise to remove millions of immigrants living in the country without papers.
“One thing that we shouldn’t lose sight of is we have a new president — a president-elect — and we need to stand behind him,” said La Puente City Councilman David Argudo, a sponsor of the measure, at the council meeting. “But he also needs to hear our voice.”
La Puente’s sanctuary city resolution expressly forbids police or other city employees from assisting in the enforcement of federal immigration law without a warrant. It prohibits the use of city resources to aid ICE investigation, arrest or gathering of information — unless it entails violation of criminal law. (Living in the United States without papers is a violation of the civil provisions of federal immigration law but is not technically a crime.)
Gilda Ochoa, a 30-year resident of La Puente and a professor at Pomona College, says she was part of a local coalition of activists who presented the idea at a City Council meeting in December. She says the group worked with Councilmember Argudo to merge their proposal with a separate one that Argudo had submitted on his own.
“Given the climate, we knew it was important to move fast on it,” Ochoa says.
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The resolution is not an ordinance that has the effect of law — its effect is mostly symbolic, though in the current climate it carries undeniable political force. La Puente city manager David Carmany says the meaning of the resolution will depend on the changes in federal policy that Trump has in store. For now, Carmany says, the resolution is a public statement of support for the city’s immigrant residents.
“It’s a signal that La Puente intends to be fair, intends to be compassionate,” Carmany says. “We don’t want a divide between people who provide city services and people who need them. And we will continue to provide those services without fear.”
Carmany says the general fund budget for the city is about $12 million, and that the city receives an additional $2 million in federal funds for park development, police grants and street projects. He says the desire to publicly reassure the worried immigrant families of La Puente overrides the threat of losing the federal funds. “Those things are important to us,” he says, “but not as important as the principle that people deserve to be treated decently.
“We’re not big supporters of big government messing in local affairs.”