California Forum

California has resisted Trump’s attempts to target Muslims. So should Los Angeles

John Wilder, background, welcomes Muslims to the United States at the Tom Bradley International Terminal of LAX in Los Angeles on June 29, 2017. (Christian K. Lee/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
John Wilder, background, welcomes Muslims to the United States at the Tom Bradley International Terminal of LAX in Los Angeles on June 29, 2017. (Christian K. Lee/Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

Recently, a federal judge – appointed by a Republican president – shut down the federal government’s lawsuit against the State of California challenging certain of its “sanctuary” policies. These policies, including SB 54 and SB 31, protect vulnerable communities from federal overreach on immigration enforcement and forbid state cooperation in any proposed Muslim registry.

The result vindicated California’s approach: Resist federal policies that target immigrant communities and enact laws that protect them from inhumane treatment. Even before Trump, California was at the forefront of efforts to resist federal policies that sought to vilify, racially profile, criminalize, and ultimately expel our immigrant communities.

With the onslaught of Trump’s Muslim ban and family separation, the need to resist is even greater. But while the state has resisted policies that treat all Muslims as inherently suspect, the City of Los Angeles is now wavering on these California values by considering partnering with Trump on yet another such policy – Countering Violent Extremism (“CVE”).

CVE is a federal law enforcement program that collects information about and potentially criminalizes Muslim, immigrant, and black and brown communities. In doing so, it works to undermine their civil rights and threaten their safety.

Through its so-called “community-led” approach to surveillance, CVE relies on community groups to root out “radicals” under the guise of providing social services. CVE programs rely on widely discredited “behavioral surveillance” techniques.

If someone wears “traditional Muslim attire,” travels to certain countries, and frequently attends mosque, they can be targeted for intervention as a potential “Muslim extremist.” There is no evidence that such broad profiling programs help predict or stop actual threats or acts of violence.

While the city’s proposal claims to operate “outside the lanes of law enforcement,” it would function as a de facto law enforcement surveillance program, since it requires grantees to provide potentially traceable demographic information about program participants to the Department of Homeland Security on a regular basis.

While the mayor’s office claims CVE funds may also be used to combat white supremacy, its federal grant application never seriously contemplated doing so. Instead, its focus, practically speaking, is on combating radicalization in Muslim communities through sub-grantees who work closely with Muslim communities in Southern California.

Even if it could shift focus to combating white supremacy – which is doubtful given that the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era CVE grant to a group with that very mission – the program would still suffer the same fatal flaws as those targeting Muslim communities.

Los Angeles has struggled with the concept of “sanctuary.” Mayor Eric Garcetti hesitated to call Los Angeles a “sanctuary city” for some time, presumably to avoid federal threats to strip it of essential funds.

Similarly, the L.A. City Council has been slow to adopt an official sanctuary policy known as the SAFE Ordinance, which would provide further protections against overreaching federal immigration enforcement. The city is apparently operating under the belief that if it does not “poke the bear,” and possibly even partners with the Trump administration on programs like CVE that fund so-called social services, Angelenos will be better off.

But the mayor’s well-meaning attempts to distance himself from the harmful surveillance aspects of the program are simply unrealistic. By accepting CVE funds, Los Angeles would be contractually bound to follow them.

Rather than increase community resilience to extremism, downplaying the program’s core surveillance goals will only lead to deep community distrust. It will also corrode the already fragile relationship between law enforcement and marginalized communities.

Los Angeles must take a page from state leaders who enacted SB 54 and SB 31. Our city leaders must do what they know to be right: Refuse to collaborate with the federal government on a program that targets Muslim, black and brown communities. It should reject the federal government’s CVE funds.

Laboni Hoq is litigation director for the civil rights organization Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and a participant in the McClatchy/Sacramento Bee California Influencer series on public policy, politics and government. Reach her at lhoq@advancingjustice-la.org and find the Influencers (with more to come Monday on “sanctuary” policy) at sacbee.com/influencers.

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