Los Alamitos Mayor Gears Up for Long Sanctuary-State Battle Ahead

California city argues charter gives it greater leeway to ignore state law

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The mayor of the small Orange County city at the center of the anti-sanctuary movement predicted that the Supreme Court would ultimately determine whether California can prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said he was disappointed but not discouraged by a federal judge's ruling late last week denying a request by the Trump administration to suspend California’s so-called sanctuary policies.

"My initial reaction—I was disappointed but not discouraged," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "Our case is somewhat related, but they are not dependent on each other."

Judge John Mendez of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California ruled last Thursday that the state’s decision not to assist in federal enforcement was not an "obstacle."

He noted that "standing aside does not equate to standing in the way" and preventing federal immigration authorities from doing their jobs of detaining and deporting illegal immigrants.

Los Alamitos was the first of many cities to register its opposition to California's Senate Bill 54, known as the "sanctuary-state" law, which took effect in January. Among other things, the law bars local law enforcement from communicating with federal authorities when it comes to detaining and releasing illegal immigrants.

Unlike other California cities, Los Alamitos took the additional step of passing an ordinance opting out of the law, arguing that the state violated its status as a charter city, which gives it more freedoms to set up and operate its police force.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Los Alamitos in mid-April, alleging that its decision to exempt itself from the state’s sanctuary laws violated the state constitution and wastes taxpayer money.

The city and the ACLU will face off in Orange County Superior Court July 27.

California state law allows for cities to be organized under either the general laws of the state or a charter adopted by local voters. Cities created under a charter have far greater autonomy to govern municipal affairs.

Of the approximately 481 incorporated cities and towns in California, only 86 are charter cities, but they include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, and San Jose.

"Our case really depends on the California Constitution, and whether state officials can commandeer our police department for whatever [purpose] they choose—right now it’s immigration," Edgar said. "For us, our issue is whether the state can run roughshod over all the cities in California."

The law governing charter cities allows cities to form, raise their own taxes, create police departments, and set their policies, Edgar argued.

"The state provides cities under a charter to give them freedom and liberties to set up the city in the context that they want," he said. "If you look at the California charter law, it's pretty explicit what our rights are as a city and [the sanctuary-state law] basically walks right through the middle of it to determine what our police department's focus should be."

Edgar takes exception to recent statements from California Gov. Jerry Brown and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra when they say they will not let "our law enforcement" assist with federal immigration authorities.

"I'm thinking you didn’t pay for that, our taxpayers paid for it," he said.

ACLU lawyers have argued that the Los Alamitos City Council cannot pick and choose which state laws it will follow.

Edgar said the city council anticipated the lawsuit and has set up a GoFundMe website to help pay for legal expenses, which has raised roughly $30,000 to pay for an estimated $100,000 legal costs so far.

The mayor said there is no precedent governing the ability of charter cities to fight state law so he would like to keep raising enough funds to be able to appeal the initial decision up to the California Supreme Court level and beyond.

Susan Crabtree

Susan Crabtree   Email Susan | Full Bio | RSS
Susan Crabtree is a senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. She is a veteran Washington reporter who has covered the White House and Congress over the past two decades. She has written for the Washington Examiner, the Washington Times, the Hill newspaper, Roll Call, and Congressional Quarterly.

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