Amid Threats of Federal Defunding, Long Beach Backs “Sanctuary State” Legislation


First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez spoke to supporters before the council voted to support the California Values Act. Photo: Jason Ruiz

The Long Beach City Council became one of the first cities in the state to formally back two State Senate bills tied to immigration enforcement and religious freedom protections in voting unanimously to support the California Values Act Tuesday night.

The bills that comprise the California Values Act (Senate Bills 54 and 31), if adopted by the state legislature, would prohibit municipalities from participating in deportations or assisting federal agencies in making a case for deportations and would prohibit cooperation in establishing religious or ethnic registries.

The immigration bill (SB-54) was introduced by Senate Leader Kevin de Leon and the religious protection bill (SB-31) was introduced by Long Beach representative Senator Ricardo Lara. The act was approved last week and has quickly been referenced as an effort to make California the first “Sanctuary State”.

First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez introduced the item to the council and was backed by three other council members including Vice Mayor Rex Richardson. The vote—7-0 with Council Members Stacy Mungo and Dee Andrews not participating—pledges the city’s support for the bills including any future amendments made to them.

Gonzalez led a rally outside the council chamber prior to the hearing where over one hundred supporters gathered to hear the co-sponsors of the item speak. She shared her immigrant story adding that her best friend is Iranian and Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce shared that her Muslim stepfather’s daughter is in Lebanon with no guarantee of being able to come home.

Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga recounted his family’s journey from Chihuahua, Mexico to Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, Texas where he eventually became the first member of his family to be born on American soil. Uranga said the proudest moment of his life was watching his parents, who became citizens at ages 84 and 90, vote for President Barack Obama, before turning his attention to the current president’s policies.

“What President Trump is proposing to do is to squelch stories like mine,” Uranga said. “To squelch stories of children of immigrants who come to this country to get educated, to get a job, to build families and who built this country. Immigrants built this country.”

That sentiment followed the council members into the meeting where hours of public comment revealed not only support for the agenda item—a non-binding resolution of support for the state senate bills—but an appetite for the city to declare itself a sanctuary city outright.

Andrew Guy, a second district resident, said the city could take pointers from Santa Ana in crafting actual policies that go beyond a pledge of support for the state’s efforts and create concrete policies that prohibit the use of local efforts to work in unison with federal deportation efforts.

ImmigrationVote“On election night we were just stunned in front of our television, actually crying, thinking about the deportation forces that we’d heard during the campaign and wondering what the future held for us,” Guy said, recounting he and his undocumented husband’s experience in November. “The people of California know that their state will stand up for them but they need to know that their city will too.”

The state of California had approximately 10.5 million immigrants within its borders as of 2014, according to data collected by the Pew Research Center. In Long Beach, about a quarter of residents identify as being “foreign born” including one of the largest populations of Cambodians outside of Cambodia, due to an influx of refugees fleeing the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s.

If California were to adopt the bills it could risk federal funding to universities, public housing programs, medical care and other entities like ports of entry. Long Beach in particular would be risking over $200 million in annual federal funding if President Donald Trump delivers on a threat he tweeted out, stating he would defund the state.

Salvador Sarmiento said that it was important that the council support the bills in their current form. He cited an opinion piece published in The Washington Post in December by three University of California Irvine School of Law professors that questioned Trump’s ability to compel states to carry out his executive orders.

The argument hinges on a provision of the 10th Amendment which has been interpreted by the United States Supreme Court to prohibit commandeering local governments’ power by federal mandates.

Two recent rulings by the high court exemplifying this common interpretation dealt with federally mandated background checks for guns and a requirement by the Affordable Care Act that would’ve forced states to expand Medicaid or lose federal funding. Both cases were decided in favor of the states.

“Trump says California is out of control,” Sarmiento said. “California Values Act says that we are out of his control to use us as part of that deportation force.”

Person after person shared their stories of parents who came to this country undocumented and now fear deportation, some doing so tearfully and others doing so defiantly. Jorge Acosta, a junior at Long Beach Polytechnic High School said he hopes that his mother will get to see his sister’s graduation from Cal State Long Beach, and someday his graduation from that very institution. Acosta spoke for his mother and for his undocumented friend who now faces the uncertainty of whether he’ll be able to stay in the country.

“I don’t want us or anyone to have to lose so much that they’ve grown up with,” Acosta said. “I’m speaking of my best friend who is undocumented, who I’ve known since my first week in high school as a freshman. He is terrified, he doesn’t want to leave, he’s lived here his entire life.”

The passage of the resolution hit a momentary snag when a few members of the council questioned whether the resolution, and any support for the bills, should first be referred to city committees so they could be properly vetted.

Both bills could very well undergo amendments before finally being voted on by the legislature. In fact, the council voted last night to add to suggested changes surrounding those convicted of crimes connected to human trafficking and violent crimes.

The vote to approve support of the bills “as amended” is not a permanent vote and the city could pull its support if the legislative text veers from the original intent or takes on a meaning the council is not ready to support.

Mayor Robert Garcia, a Peruvian immigrant, said it was an important step for Long Beach to become one of the first cities in the state to stand behind the state’s efforts to protect its residents. Having a statewide standard, he said, would ensure that people aren’t treated or protected differently dependent on what municipality they’re in.

“This is what Long Beach is about. Long Beach is about everyone. And everyone includes people that are undocumented, Muslim-American, and that need our support,” Garcia said. “We should not at any point feel threatened or bullied by anyone, whether it’s the governor of another state, a US Senator or the President of the United States. We have to always stick up for the values that we believe in.”

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.