California leaders push back against Trump, pledge to protect immigrant ‘sanctuaries’

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg greets Elvia Vasquez, left, and Helen Berhane, right, at Broadway Coffee in Oak Park on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. Mayor Steinberg spent his first day in office touring Oak Park.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg greets Elvia Vasquez, left, and Helen Berhane, right, at Broadway Coffee in Oak Park on Wednesday, December 14, 2016. Mayor Steinberg spent his first day in office touring Oak Park. rbenton@sacbee.com

California leaders, already preparing to fight the Trump administration on climate change and health care, struck defiant tones Wednesday against two executive orders signed by the president toughening federal laws targeting undocumented immigrants.

Top officials from the Capitol to city halls around the state fired back against executive orders signed by Donald Trump seeking to build a wall on the border with Mexico and to block federal aid to local governments that do not cooperate with federal authorities to track and report undocumented immigrants.

California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said the state is ready to sue the federal government to defend California’s laws and prevent mass deportations of its residents. Mayors from Sacramento to San Diego said they would also defend the rights of immigrants, even as Trump sought to cut off federal grants to so-called sanctuary cities.

“As mayor of our city, I would never trade away peoples’ civil rights for money,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said. “That’s the only place to stand on behalf of this city that turned out 25,000 people to Capitol Mall (for the women’s march) and this city that prides itself on its incredible diversity.”

Steinberg added his city would “join, if not lead, any effort to fight (the sanctuary city threat) with litigation.”

The Sacramento City Council passed an ordinance in 1985 prohibiting city police and other employees from asking about individuals’ immigration status. Steinberg said the city will not reverse course and will remain a sanctuary city, even under the threat of missing out on federal aid. He said the city will begin assessing how much federal revenue is at stake.

De León, D-Los Angeles, issued his own rebuke to Trump’s executive actions. At a press briefing Wednesday afternoon, he said the Legislature will fast-track new laws to expand protections for undocumented immigrants and fund legal representation for those facing deportation. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who took office Tuesday, and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will play key roles in the state’s fight to “protect all Californians,” de León said.

“Thanks to the supermajority we won in November, we have the ability to use urgency clauses to implement new laws immediately, and the actions of the new administration demand an immediate response,” de León said. “We will also explore all of our legal options, in collaboration with Attorney General Becerra and the Legislature’s legal counsel.”

De León said the state Senate would expedite passing a bill he wrote – Senate Bill 54 – that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources for immigration enforcement. He said the bill would be heard in both the judiciary and public safety committees on Tuesday.

Lawmakers said they would speed up two other proposed bills: SB 31, proposed by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources to “investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest” people for immigration enforcement purposes. SB 6, proposed by Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, would enlist the state to provide legal assistance to those facing deportation, among other things.

In a statement, Becerra said it was important to keep Trump’s actions in proper context.

“Executive orders do not change existing law,” Becerra said. “Executive orders cannot contradict existing law. And executive orders can be challenged for violating constitutional and legal standards in their enforcement.”

More than 2.6 million undocumented immigrants lived in California in 2013, with 57,000 in Sacramento County, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Republican lawmakers at the Capitol did not attend de León’s press briefing. But in recent hearings leading up to Becerra’s confirmation, several said sanctuary city policies protect people who have committed crimes – an argument Democrats vehemently denounced as a scare tactic.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, supported Trump’s actions in Washington on Wednesday.

“Few things are more fundamental to a nation than a defined and protected border,” McCarthy said. “The lack of security on our southern border is a threat to the safety of our homeland, and the Obama administration’s catch-and-release policy was an affront to the rule of law. President Trump’s actions are the right start to enforcing our laws and protecting our citizens.”

Sacramento County Supervisor Sue Frost said she does not support the county becoming a sanctuary “primarily because it’s the law and breaking that federal requirement could jeopardize the county for funding that is critical.”

“I also feel like we need to take care of our citizens first, that’s our mandate,” Frost said. “And if we jeopardize our federal funding, that in itself could backfire and jeopardize our being able to help the people we are trying to help, like the homeless.”

Sacramento County does not recognize itself as a sanctuary county, and the Sheriff’s Department now detains 149 inmates at the request of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. ICE agents are “regularly inside our facilities” to “access our data and inmate population,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a press release.

However, the Sheriff’s Department said it does not track the immigration status of inmates in custody at its jails, nor does it “inquire or check the immigration status of those that we come into contact with.” Those practices are commonplace among jurisdictions that consider themselves immigrant sanctuaries.

If the Trump administration places a sanctuary designation on Sacramento County, the financial impact could be severe: The county’s budget for the current fiscal year includes $629.4 million in federal funding, out of a $3.9 billion budget, according to Chris Andis, a county spokeswoman.

Holly S. Cooper, co-director of the Immigration Law Clinic at the UC Davis School of Law, said county sheriffs don’t report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities for many reasons. She said many “view it as a federal responsibility” to enforce immigration laws and are reluctant to spend an “enormous amount of resources” on the practice.

“It (also) creates a lot of mistrust with the community,” Hooper said. “Most sheriffs have a belief that it can impact investigations if you lose community trust.”

Many of the state’s largest counties – including Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles – are considered sanctuary counties by organizations that study immigration laws. But few of them do have ordinances or laws establishing themselves as sanctuaries. More than 30 California cities are also considered sanctuary cities.

Trump’s key campaign promises included deporting what he said were thousands of immigrants living illegally in the United States who have committed serious crimes. The president announced Wednesday he was moving to bolster the ranks of both ICE and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to assist in those deportations.

But hiring those additional officers will take money – and time – meaning Trump will rely on local law enforcement to help fulfill his campaign pledge. The threat of slashing federal aid to sanctuary cities could help him achieve his goal, said Emily Robinson, an attorney and the co-chair of the Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

“Without (local law enforcement) cooperation, he is going to be ineffective in deporting individuals,” Robinson said.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis. Bee staff writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

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