A Contentious Place To Live: Fountain Valley City Council Votes in Favor of Amicus Brief Supporting Federal Government’s Lawsuit Against ‘Sanctuary State’ Laws

Author: Joe Brizzolara / April 6, 2018

city hall

Los Alamitos City Hall. Photo: Chris Rusanowsky / The Sprawl

On Tuesday night the Fountain Valley City Council voted 3-2 in favor of sending an amicus brief supporting Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Lawsuit against the State of California for the California Values Act, the so called “Sanctuary State” law.

The California Values Act (SB 54) prohibits state and local officials from assisting federal agents enforce immigration law.

Fountain Valley is one of the latest cities to join in Orange County’s backlash against the state government for its immigration policies aimed at directly opposing the Trump Administration.

Across the county Tuesday night, San Juan Capistrano’s City Council voted in favor of a symbolic resolution condemning SB 54 while nearby Fullerton voted against taking action. Conversely, Santa Ana voted to send an amicus brief supporting the State in the lawsuit.

The night before Huntington Beach, swarming with protesters, voted to file its own lawsuit against the state while the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted last week to join the Justice Department’s lawsuit. And on Wednesday night, Aliso Viejo voted to also send an amicus brief opposing the state.

“An amicus brief is essentially a ‘friend of the court’ brief. It is a legal position for the court without actually getting involved in the lawsuit,” explained Fountain Valley City Attorney Colin Burns.

The recent trend began in early March with the City of Los Alamitos. They passed an ordinance that directly exempts itself from SB 54.

Along with the California Values Act, the federal lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of two other Californian laws. The Workplace Raid Law (AB 450) restricts employers from turning over employee records to I.C.E. without a subpoena. The Detention Review Law (AB 103) requires that the California Attorney General review any detention center that holds undocumented immigrants who are awaiting deportation or immigration court.

Councilmember Larry Crandall proposed the legal action and believes that ‘Sanctuary State’ laws are unconstitutional. He took action after receiving feedback from Fountain Valley residents about their frustrations with Sacramento.

“Now that I was on council, and had an opportunity to do something about it, I did it.”

Crandall, commenting on the state legislature’s Democratic supermajority: “They hate our President, and they will do whatever they can to hurt him.”  

Signs carried by those opposing the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures read: “F(ountain) V(alley) A Nice Place for Everyone” playing on the city’s official nickname “A Nice Place to Live”. Another reads: “I’m Local I support SB 54.”

Supporters of the anti-‘Sanctuary State’ measures carried American flags and a few wore ‘Make America Great Again’ caps and shirts. One women’s shirt reads “ARREST Gov. Brown [State Senator and author of SB 54 Kevin] De Leon [State Attorney General Xavier] Becerra.”

Longtime Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher was in attendance, pledging his support for action against the state.

“I am here to encourage you to join with other cities in the amicus brief in opposing what is an outrageous policy that is being forced on local governments by establishing a policy that will bring criminals into California, and into our areas where we have given sanctuary to criminals.”  

“Don’t try to get around what your real position on the matter is by saying you can’t do it because of the money. Because I will help you raise that money, or I’ll give it to you out of my personal campaign treasury,” said Rohrabacher, offering to pay for the legal expenses of an amicus brief.

Rohrabacher’s comments were met by roaring applause from his supporters but also led one detractor to verbally confront him as he exited the meeting. Fountain Valley Police escorted the congressman to a neighboring police station.

Councilmember Crandall says he was in contact with Rohrabacher’s staff leading up to the meeting.

“I thought I’d kinda talked them out of coming because it’s a Fountain Valley issue,” says Crandall. “I didn’t want it to become [the] real dog and pony show that it ended up being. But he has a right to come.”

Concerning the offer of funding for a legal challenge: “The council has a budget and we’re gonna see to taking care of this on our own. We don’t want to get involved in political campaigns.”

One man wearing a shirt reading “Make California Great Again” tells someone on the phone jokingly: “I’ll probably get arrested for what I have to say.” Another in a MAGA hat remarks in earnest about politics: “It’s all theater.”

The crowd had to be reminded several times, often to no avail, to remain quiet throughout the hours of public comment.

“We’ll vote you out!” threatens one attendant, if the proposal was voted down.

“We’ll vote you back in!” says an attendant who opposed the proposal.

“Our job at the state level is to create as safe an environment as we can for people to be successful human beings,” says Matt Taylor, Fountain Valley resident and Fullerton College professor. “I feel like putting state and local officials in charge of enforcing immigration reform really confuses the roles and creates an environment, quite frankly, that I not only [don’t] want to work in, but [also] live in.”

“Let the federal government do its a job and when it has probable cause to arrest and detain someone I think we should participate. But if the federal government doesn’t have cause to detain someone, the lack of their documented status is not sufficient reason to turn them over to the federal government.”

Fountain Valley resident Steve Dolberg, who supports legal action against SB 54: “The City of Fountain Valley obviously needs to take a stand one way or the other. It’s the only way Sacramento is going to get feedback [on whether] what they’ve done is acceptable or not.”  

“I’m not one of these people who says ‘they’re all bad, they all have to go’… [but] they have broken the law in order to get here which makes them a criminal… they are not citizens of the United States, they are not entitled to constitutional protections.”

“All [the options involving legal action] have significant costs associated with them,” warns City Attorney Burns. “By passing an ordinance, you do open yourself up to a challenge by the state Attorney General, possibly by other private groups… the intervention into the federal action requires a substantial amount of attorney time, you essentially become a party to that lawsuit.”   

Councilmember Crandall believes that the amicus brief option was the most cost efficient while still taking an active position.

“Filing an amicus brief is not going to expose us to lawsuits.”

Along with Fountain Valley, Yorba Linda and Mission Viejo (which also passed a symbolic resolution supporting Los Alamitos’s ordinance) have submitted amicus briefs.

“What I found very disconcerting is that the state would impose, unilaterally, on cities the status of sanctuary state/city. Without any input from us. We didn’t get a chance to vote, we didn’t have dialogue, it was just imposed. I think that’s fundamentally wrong” says Yorba Linda Mayor Gene Hernandez.

While agreeing with Los Alamitos’s position, Hernandez felt that it would have been the wrong tactic for Yorba Linda.

“Los Alamitos will get sued. They will have to fight the lawsuit. My thinking is, the Feds are already suing the state, let’s support the Feds. They foot the cost of the lawsuit where it’s going to end up anyway. This will go before the Supreme Court to make a ruling on, a couple years down the road I would imagine. That’s the reality of it. So just to do the symbolism of [passing a municipal ordinance] we get the same effect by writing this brief and saying ‘we do not support being a sanctuary city, and here’s the reasons why.’”

Mayor Michael Vo abstained from casting a vote on the amicus brief. He preambled his vote by mentioning Jim Kanno, Fountain Valley’s first mayor and possibly the first ever Japanese-American to be mayor of a U.S. city. He talked about Kano’s history of being held in a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II, an oblique reference to an instance when the federal government’s authority was used to persecute a minority group.  

“His only crime was having Japanese parents,” said Mayor Vo. “Fountain valley is better to not take a stand on this issue.”

“This isn’t about legal or illegal immigration,” argues Councilmember Crandall. “This isn’t about the color of someone’s skin, the language they speak. It’s [about] the rule of law. And the supremacy clause says that federal law supersedes state law”

“I can hang my hat on the rack and go to sleep at night knowing we did the right thing for the right reason”

Los Alamitos: ‘the little cottonwoods’ makes a big statement

From the Los Alamitos Ordiance’s background provided in the City Council agenda: “The California Values Act (SB54) is contrary to the United States Constitution and infringes on the rights of the citizens of the City of Los Alamitos… In view of this contradiction, it is impossible to comply with both the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California. When two governing documents contradict each other, the order of precedence needs to be invoked and followed.”

“It was a very simple theory I had. If the state was arguing that they could be exempt from certain federal laws, then I wanted to pose to my colleagues, why couldn’t we be exempt from certain state laws?” says Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto who proposed the Los Alamitos Resolution.

Like Fountain Valley’s April 3rd Meeting, the normally muted Los Alamitos City Hall was overflowing with protesters on both sides of the aisle cheering and jeering for hours.

The ordinance was passed on March 19th, shortly after the federal lawsuit was filed on March 7th. Kusumoto claims the timing was unplanned.

Kusumoto says that one of their reasons for passing the ordinance was to make sure that companies contracted by the federal government could comply with E-Verify requirements without fear of being targeted by the state. E-Verify is an electronic database that certifies an individual’s legal status.

“If they obey California law, they might lose their federal contract,” says Kusumoto. “I thought, this is not right, and we ought to put something in place that would at least offer them that protection.”

Niels W. Frenzen, Director of USC’s Immigration Clinic, refutes this concern: “The California Values Act, SB 54, does not have any impact whatsoever on E-Verify”

Frenzen believes that Kusumoto might have been referring to AB 450, the Immigrant Worker Protection Act.

Frenzen points to a specific exemption for E-Verify written into AB 450: “In accordance with state and federal law, nothing in this chapter shall be interpreted, construed, or applied to restrict or limit an employer’s compliance with a memorandum of understanding governing the use of the federal E-Verify system.”

Jessica Levinson, law professor at Loyola Law School, believes the Los Alamitos ordinance is illegal.

“There is discretion for localities to make laws that differ from state laws,” Levinson explains, “but not laws that specifically say, we will not abide by state law.”

“When there’s a direct conflict, the state will win.”

Councilmember Kusumoto acknowledges that he was not entirely sure of the ordinance’s impact when he proposed and voted for it.

“10 days after [the ordinance is implemented] they’re gonna sue us. For what? I don’t know. So we’ll see”

On April 16th, the Los Alamitos City Council will reconvene and vote to officially implement the ordinance now that it has been passed.  

Sameer Ahmed, staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, voiced their opposition in a statement: “City council members claim they want to uphold the U.S. Constitution, but their vote does the exact opposite. The state of California has every right under the Constitution to protect the safety and well-being of all of its residents, and ensure that its resources are not being used to enforce federal immigration laws that fuel mass deportations, separate families and spread fear through immigrant communities.”

Policy director and senior staff attorney Angela Chan of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, an immigrants rights group in Orange County, echoes this opposition: “Los Alamitos is seeking to violate state law and the rights of its own immigrant residents.  If Los Alamitos passes this wrong-headed ordinance, it will be signaling to its residents that it is more interested in tearing families apart, violating due process rights, and engaging in racial profiling than in respecting and protecting its residents.”

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