By Tina Richards

A resolution defining the City of Orange’s position of noncompliance with state legislation (SB54) that overrides federal  illegal immigration enforcement mandates was passed by the city council, following a marathon five hours of public testimony that overwhelmed the April 10 meeting.

The federal statute requires state and local law enforcement to detain suspected illegals and share information with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  California legislators responded with SB54, which gives law enforcement the discretion to cooperate with ICE when a felony or violent crime is committed, but prohibits asking about immigration status, sharing data with immigration authorities, or using resources to “investigate, interrogate, detain, detect or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes.”

The federal government has sued California over portions of SB54, and its fate will be decided by the courts.  In the meantime, Orange County and several other municipalities have passed their own resolutions stating their intent to follow federal, not state, law.

Out of the woodwork
Word that City Councilman Fred Whitaker and Mayor Pro Tem Mark Murphy were going to introduce a similar resolution at the April 10 meeting produced a standing-room-only crowd in the council chambers, an equally packed overflow room, and vans from local news outlets.  

“California’s sanctuary state law precludes local officials from voluntarily providing information like prisoner release dates and other things that help federal law enforcement,” Whitaker said, introducing the resolution. “We’re a general law city, which means that we are subject to the U.S. Constitution, but also subject to everything the state legislature does. The state has put us in an untenable position. Until the judiciary decides the issue, we should stay [hold off, ed.] any compliance with SB54.” 

“The position the city is in conflicts with the senate bill,” Murphy reiterated, noting that in this case, Orange cannot comply with both federal and state laws. “What we’re saying is that we’ll defer to federal law moving forward.  We’re also supporting the county’s position.” 

Every citizen has a say
Mayor Tita Smith subsequently opened the public hearing on the resolution and released the floodgates.  Supporters of the resolution, several wearing Trump T-shirts, one draped in an American flag, praised the council for its stand against illegal immigration.  They cited the specter of illegal rapists and murders wandering free and jeopardizing public safety, jobs lost to undocumented workers, tax money spent on social services and the value of closed borders.  Other, less colorful, supporters encouraged the city to adopt the resolution and simply uphold federal law.  This is not about immigrants, they stressed, it’s about illegals.

Opponents of the resolution noted that the state statute did not apply to felony offenses and that lesser offenders should be allowed to “return to their families.”  Others noted that the federal law instilled fear and prevented illegals from coming forward when they witnessed a crime. America, opponents repeated, is a “nation of immigrants” and urged Orange to maintain a spirit of inclusiveness.

Most of the comments – from both sides -- were heartfelt and instructive.  Many were not.  Smith repeatedly cautioned the audience to “be respectful.”  

In dubious battle
“Why are we doing this?” a public speaker asked midway through the cacophony. “Let’s sit this one out,” Fred Smoller suggested to the council. ”You don’t have to do anything. The courts are going to decide. This does no good. Your actions could do harm.  It flies in the face of the Orange way.  It’s a divisive issue.”

“We’ve heard a lot of ugliness tonight,” another said.  “It isn’t necessary.”

Just minutes before midnight, the final public comment concluded, and the topic went back to the council for discussion. “I want to be clear,” Fred Whitaker opened, “I have absolutely nothing against any immigrant. We’re a city that welcomes immigrants. We’re also a city that supports the rule of law. The SB54 issue is narrow. There are provisions that prevent law enforcement from talking to law enforcement. This resolution deals with public safety amid conflicting laws.” 

“There’s a broad range of opinion on this,” Mark Murphy summarized, “but I believe it is important to state our position, especially because of the potential conflict between state and federal law.”

Law and disorder
Kim Nichols expressed her own conflicts on the topic. “This is clearly a divisive issue,” she said.  “Very unfortunately. We should be a nation of inclusion. But as a member of the city council, I was elected to uphold the U.S. Constitution. SB54 is in conflict with the laws of the U.S. The federal government has authority over immigration laws. I have to defer to that.”

Mike Alvarez agreed that the issue was divisive. “By tomorrow, it’s not going to make any difference,” he said. “It’s still going to be SB54. This city hall is not the battleground. The battle is in Sacramento. I don’t agree with anything that’s going to divide our city. I’d rather see us sit it out.”

After patiently keeping five hours of public comments in order, Mayor Tita Smith finally had her say. “I’m not in favor of this resolution,” she declared. “It promotes distrust of our police and local authorities, and undermines the atmosphere of trust and inclusion our Orange community values and strongly defends -- for 130 years.”

The resolution was approved by a three (Whitaker, Murphy, Nichols) to two (Smith, Alvarez) vote.    

May 2018

Supporters of the Orange resolution to follow federal law and not state legislation regarding illegal immigration make their position clear at the April 10 city council meeting.

Opponents of the Orange resolution remained resolute during five hours of public comment. 

Divisive resolution dominates public discussion   

at Orange council meeting