Long Beach took another step toward becoming a sanctuary city Tuesday night after the Long Beach City Council approved a resolution that builds off state laws banning local law enforcement from coordinating with federal immigration officers by expanding that to all city departments and initiating the creation of a legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation.
Titled the Long Beach Values Act of 2018, the non-binding resolution puts the city’s support behind state legislations like Senate Bill 54, will publicize police directives when it comes to booking and detaining of inmates, well see the city more aggressively advocate for legislative change at both the state and federal levels and could potentially set up a legal aid defense fund for immigrants.
The resolution’s lead author, First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez advised the crowd assembled at city hall Tuesday night that the vote would not prohibit federal agents from entering Long Beach.
“We know that many ICE raids are occurring,” Gonzalez said. “And whatever happens tonight, I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but I have to be very crystal clear here. Whatever passes tonight, and I’m absolutely hopeful that we’ll pass something that will protect our immigrants, but it still ultimately does not deter federal agents from coming and deporting our neighbors, friends, our family members, our sisters.”
Community members turned out in force to push the council to further amend a policy that has been in the works for over a year. While the proposed motion prohibits all Long Beach agencies from sharing personal information with United States Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) and other federal entities, immigrants could still be deported under “carve outs” for certain violent felonies and other crimes listed in SB 54.
Those carve outs include rape, hate crimes, torture and gang-related offenses. They also include vandalism, money laundering and felony driving under the influence. To be eligible for deportation a person would have to be convicted of a felony level crime of any of the few dozen crimes listed in SB 54 but not all council members were happy with the senate bill’s carve outs being reflected in the Long Beach Values Act.
“I have issues with the carve outs, I really do,” Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga said. “Some of the carve outs and some of the crimes, I don’t see them reaching that level of having to be deported. For example…a DUI, embezzlement, forgery. I see those as perhaps white-collar type crimes and there are some people in jails now who I wish I could deport, who are white. You know, go back to Europe. Switzerland. Wherever.”
The Sanctuary Long Beach coalition, made up of groups representing a number of ethnic minorities throughout the city and pushing for the city to adopt a sanctuary city law, demanded that the carve outs for past criminal convictions be removed. The reasoning being that adding a deportation on top of a conviction is double punishment for immigrants and continues the narrative of “good immigrants” versus “bad immigrants”.
The group, which has been a persistent force in pushing the council to adopt stronger protections for immigrants, has developed a website dedicated to the cause and even created a program called “Migra Watch”—Migra is shorthand slang for immigration officers—which encourages community members to call in suspected raids or current immigration operations in the city in an attempt to tip off vulnerable neighbors and community members.
“The impact of this carve-out is inconsistent with our Long Beach values of diversity, progress, and inclusion as it disproportionately excludes the majority of the Cambodian refugee community, who is highly vulnerable to deportation,” the group wrote on its website which included its demands for change in the council’s policy. “We strongly oppose these carve-outs due to the devastating impact they will have on the 20,000 members of the Cambodian community in Long Beach, the largest concentration of Cambodians outside of Southeast Asia.”
For over three hours members of the community shared personal stories of brothers, mothers and primary breadwinners being deported from Long Beach leaving a trail of financial strain and heartbreak. One man even shared that a family funeral had to be conducted partially via webcam to ensure that all members of the family could be present. Others shared stories of family members being forced to start over in countries they’ve never lived in because of years-old offenses they had already served time for.
Alisha Sim, a 21-year-old Long Beach resident, spoke of her family which includes eight siblings, five of whom were refugees. Sim said that one of her brothers, who was born in a refugee camp and raised his entire life in Long Beach had committed a crime, served his time but was eventually sent back to Cambodia where he had no support system.
“For the first few years my mom tried to help by sending him money so he could get back onto his feet even if we did not have much ourselves,” Sim said. “Deportation has broken my family and caused so much stress financially, physically and emotionally,” Sim said. “Deportation affects entire communities not just the individuals who are deported. Our families are suffering and struggling because of our history as refugees and lack of support and now we are being sent back. This is double punishment.”
While the national immigration conversation has focused on those coming from Central America, the speakers came from a variety of backgrounds including Cambodian, Filipino and African-Americans. The message was clear, more needed to be done so that these experiences did not extend to more families in Long Beach.
“Our mayor was undocumented,” said first district resident Marlene Alvarado. “He became a citizen under Ronald Reagan. Why are we doing this to people who could become our mayors like you?”
The council’s vote comes just one week after United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the US Department of Justice was suing California for laws like SB 54 that limited local cooperation with federal entities. The vote also came on the same day that a United States Fifth District Court of Appeals upheld the State of Texas’s ban on sanctuary city policies.
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, something cited at length by the public Tuesday night, will likely play a large role in the state’s defense as it largely limits the control that the federal government can exert over states. It states that the “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
In the 1997 United States Supreme Court decision Printz v United States the court held that the federal government could not coerce states to conduct federal agencies’ work. With the DOJ’s lawsuit and the potential loss of funding from the federal government because of the state’s refusal to participate in immigration policing the Printz decision could be pivotal in retaining that funding.
Just two members of the public spoke against the motion, both of whom are weekly presences at council meetings and regularly lambaste its members for a variety of issues. Robert Peete, an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump who was eventually removed from the meeting for issuing a verbal threat, was first in line at the public comment mic.
“You get your ass back to Peru and do this shit, or whatever,” Peete told Mayor Robert Garcia who is Peruvian. “Don’t do it here. This is America. Red, white and blue.”
After over four hours of discussion the council voted to slightly amend the original motion, increasing the target number for potential seed money for a legal defense fund from $100,000 to $250,000, mandating that a police department policy be distributed to the public and the department and a requirement that all city department heads sign a letter pledging to adhere to the resolution.
The fund would seek non-profits and philanthropic donations to reach the amount needed to fully represent the number of undocumented persons likely in Long Beach. To qualify for assistance a person would have to live in the city, have an income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level and be facing a number of immigration-related legal issues.
A separate motion for the funding mechanism of the legal aid fund was requested by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price, who supported the protections of the act, but cited the city’s charter in stating that it was likely illegal for the city to use taxpayer dollars to defend non-city employees in individual suits.
“In my opinion, allocating city tax dollars to non-profit to implement a legal defense fund is a way to creatively get around the intent of our charter which is that city money should be used to defend the city and city employees if it’s going to be used for legal action,” Price said. “It’s not the intent of our charter that we allocate taxpayer dollars for individual legal battles.”
Despite the outcry for the elimination of carve outs from the community the council deferred to SB 54 and its list of crimes deemed suitable for deportation. Long Beach Police Department Chief Robert Luna said that removing the carve outs could have negative impacts on fighting crime in the city.
“I think it’s very dangerous for us to limit what your police department can do,” Luna said. “You’re taking tools from us in a tool box when we’re trying to deal with crime.”
Luna explained that the department already does not transfer inmates to ICE custody without a judicial warrant and that those eligible for deportation would have to be convicted of the list of various felonies outlined in SB 54, not merely arrested and charged with one. A separate presentation on the crimes outlined in SB 54 is expected to be given by the police department in the coming months.
However, if given a court order the city would have to transfer prisoners or risk being in contempt of the court.
The vote is a push in the direction of sanctuary status although the definition of sanctuary city is ambiguous. The city must follow state law—SB 54—which would technically put it in line with other sanctuary policies regardless of local motions like the one approved Tuesday night.
A separate report on the feasibility and funding opportunities for the legal defense fund is expected to come back before the council in the coming months.
Jason Ruiz covers transportation for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or 951-310-1772.
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