Waterford could join other jurisdictions in opposing California's sanctuary state law, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October to resist President Donald Trump's campaign promises to ramp up deportations.
With the resolution before the City Council on Thursday, Stanislaus County's second smallest city could side with the federal government’s lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 54, also known as the California Values Act.
The governor signed the legislation in response to Trump’s impassioned campaign promises of immigration enforcement and to ensure state resources and police officers won't assist the effort in a state with large populations of immigrants.
City Councilman Joshua Whitfield’s proposal coincides with a reaction against SB 54 from cities and counties controlled by conservative elected officials.
“First and foremost, when I served in the military and when I serve in public office, I take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States,” Whitfield said. “I take that pretty seriously and think (SB 54) is a gross overreach of state authority.”
Whitfield said his proposed resolution is somewhat different in urging Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform law that, among things, protects “Dreamers” against deportation.
Aside from a moral obligation to protect Dreamers, he said, the cost of deporting 800,000 people in the DACA program makes no fiscal sense.
“I think my friends on the left won’t be pleased and some of my friends on the right won’t be pleased,” Whitfield said.
If approved by the Waterford council, the resolution would allow the city attorney to submit a legal brief in support of the federal lawsuit. The city has not decided whether to do that yet, but Whitfield expects a cost estimate will be presented at Thursday's meeting.
While opposing the sanctuary law, the resolution calls for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration law that “strengthens border security, combats human trafficking, and provides protections for undocumented immigrants (known as Dreamers) who have been brought into the United States at no fault of their own, who are law abiding members of our communities and have largely only known the U.S. as their home.”
Tuesday, the Republican leaders of San Diego, the state’s second largest county, voted to back the federal lawsuit against Senate Bill 54, following suit with conservative Orange County’s resolution to side with federal authority.
Last week, the Ripon City Council unanimously approved a similar stance against the state's sanctuary law. If the city is faced with complying with SB 54 or federal law, Ripon and its police department will comply with federal authority, the resolution said.
Critics of the defiant cities and counties suggest that Republicans are trying to exploit emotions to expand their weak political base in the deep blue state.
Rebecca Harrington, vice chairman of the municipal advisory council in heavily Latino south Modesto, said local jurisdictions should not disregard the state law while the legal issues are hashed out in court.
Harrington said she was glad the governor signed the sanctuary law. “I know what a lot of people are going through and there are situations where people are deported for no reason,” Harrington said.
She’s in favor of deporting hardcore felons who are here illegally, but the situation is not so simple with undocumented people who came to California because they were threatened by drug-related violence in Mexico, she said.
Under the sanctuary law, local police departments and state law enforcement cannot ask for a person's immigration status or detain a person at the request of federal authorities unless there's a felony warrant. The law restricts police from making an arrest based on a civil immigration warrant and taking part in Border Patrol activities or joint task forces working on immigration enforcement.
Whitfield said he has heard people in agribusiness complain about SB 54 requirements to take certain steps if they hear about an immigration raid.
The councilman suggested the state water board's plan to usurp historic water rights and take river allocations from farmers and cities like Modesto is another example of state government overreaching its authority. “This civil war between the state and Washington, D.C., is not benefiting the people,” he said.