Anti-Sanctuary Push Spreads to Other California Cities

Orange County, Aliso Viejo, and Buena Park officials plan to push for similar action

A special agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) searches a vehicle heading into Mexico
A special agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) searches a vehicle heading into Mexico / Getty Images
March 21, 2018

Orange County and several other cities in California could follow the lead of Los Alamitos and opt out of the state’s controversial law that restricts local cooperation with federal immigration authorities.

Los Alamitos, the second smallest city in Orange County with a population of 11,500, late Monday rejected the state's so-called sanctuary law in a vote of 4-1 of the city council.

Officials with Orange County and the cities of Aliso Viejo and Buena Park reached out to Los Alamitos officials and began publicly expressing support and intentions to take up similar anti-sanctuary language.

"We are a little city in Orange County, but we're tired of things coming out of Sacramento that just don't make sense, and now others are telling us they feel the same way," said Warren Kusumoto, the Los Alamitos councilman who wrote the anti-sanctuary ordinance.

In an interview, Kusumoto said he introduced the language opting out of the new state law because he said state officials are "bullying" city leaders into picking sides between following federal or state law.

Choosing state law over federal law forces local officials to violate their oath of office to defend the U.S. Constitution, he said.

"We want to declare that we are not a sanctuary city and we will defend and support the United States because we have taken an oath, and this is the same oath that folks in Sacramento have taken as well as the governor and the Senate," he said.

All California officials pledge to uphold the state and federal Constitutions, he said.

"I have two conflicting documents—one has to have precedence over the other—it just does," he said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sued the state of California earlier this month over the sanctuary law, arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government authority over immigration policy, not the states.

Kusumoto said and other city councilmen didn't want to wait for the results of a lengthy legal battle to determine which laws to follow. He said he and other Los Alamitos officials have heard from several other California cities about their interest in passing their own version of the anti-sanctuary city ordinance.

Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel on Tuesday said she also plans to introduce a similar ordinance for the Board of Supervisors to consider.

"I thank the City of Los Alamitos for standing up for its citizens and rejecting the so-called 'sanctuary' legislation passed in Sacramento, and I urge the County of Orange and all of our cities to do the same," she said in a news release.

Aliso Viejo's Mayor Dave Harrington has said he plans to advocate for similar action at his city council's next meeting in early April, and Buena Park Councilwoman Beth Swift on Tuesday said she has requested that the issue be placed to on the city's agenda for discussion.

Huntington Beach, a popular beach city in Orange County, was discussing a similar ordinance before Los Alamitos acted, according to Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen, who represents both Huntington Beach and Los Alamitos.

"Tiny Los Alamitos has kicked open the door and now other cities across California are looking to get onboard and stand up against the illegal sanctuary state," Allen, who is running an uphill campaign for governor, told the Ventura County Star on Tuesday.

California Senate Leader Kevin de Leon, who authored the so-called sanctuary bill, which is officially titled the California Values Act, called the Los Alamitos Council's action "a symbolic vote in favor of President Trump's racist immigration enforcement policies."

De Leon, who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) from the left, also threatened the city and others considering similar measures with lawsuits if they don't back down.

"Local governments that attempt to break the law will saddle their residents with unnecessary and expensive litigation costs," he said, according to the Ventura County Star.

Los Alamitos still must hold a second vote to adopt the new local law on April 16. If it passes, the ACLU of Southern California has put the city on notice that it or another entity would likely sue to enforce the state law.

"The ACLU strongly opposes the initial vote by the city of Los Alamitos to approve an ordinance exempting the city from the California Values Act," Sameer Ahmed, a staff attorney at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, said in statement. "The ordinance, if given approval, would be a blatant violation of the city's obligation to follow state law."

Kusumoto, whose grandparents are Japanese immigrants who came to Hawaii and then California, rejects charges that he and other Los Alamitos councilmen are racist. He also said liberal groups from outside his city are targeting his home phone number with calls taking issue with the city ordinance from people in Washington, D.C., Florida, and Wisconsin who are reading from a script.

"The bullies on the left—they are out there trying to paint us as racist. We're not. Or they are trying to paint us as anti-immigrant, and we're not," he said. "I come from immigrants—I am not anti-immigrant. That's the sad part. Those who protest us paint a broad brush and they do it for effect."

The city council, he said, is taking a stand against illegal immigration and the right of the federal government to carry out its laws. He said he has heard from legal immigrants who are having trouble finding competitive salaries because they have to compete with illegal immigrants who will accept lower wages.

Kusumoto acknowledges that he's concerned about lawsuits the city could face but says support is pouring in from around the country.

"People are saying do you have a GoFundMe page or a legal defense fund for the city?" he said. "I think we'll be okay."