By Tina Richards

The City of Orange is quietly backing away from its resolution to defy California’s Senate Bill 54, known as the sanctuary state law, in response to a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggesting that the decision was not legal and should be reversed.

The ACLU letter noted that municipalities must follow the law, and that cities can’t resolve to do otherwise.

 “The City of Orange has never failed to comply with any state law,” City Attorney Wayne Winthers wrote in a letter replying to the ACLU.  “Resolution 21074 expresses the Orange City Council’s opposition to SB54 based on its apparent conflict with federal law.  However, this resolution is just that -- a resolution -- not intended to have the legal effect of an ordinance.”

The law of which land?
California passed SB54 in response to federal legislation requiring all law enforcement officers and government agency personnel to act as defacto immigration agents, asking people about their immigration status and sharing that information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  The state answered with a law (government code 7282.4) giving law enforcement personnel discretion to cooperate with ICE in cases of violent crime, but prohibits them from investigating, questioning, detaining or arresting persons for immigration enforcement purposes.  

The federal government subsequently sued California over some parts of its counter legislation. The issue will ultimately be decided in court. 

Orange and several other local bodies (Orange County, Los Alamitos, Aliso Viejo, Newport Beach, Westminster) jumped ahead of the court case and passed resolutions opposing the state’s action.

Orange’s resolution stated that, “The City of Orange will, respectfully, stay [stop] compliance with SB54 until the United States of America v. State of California case is fully and finally decided by the judiciary.”

Following a volatile public hearing, April 10, the city council voted 3-2 to adopt the resolution.  The decision followed more than five hours of public comment, with speakers from other jurisdictions who came to support the resolution periodically disrupting the proceedings.  Orange residents were fairly equally divided between support and opposition. 

Resolution, not revolution
Mayor Tita Smith voted against the resolution because she thought it promoted distrust and undermined Orange’s community values. Councilman Mike Alvarez also voted "no" because, he believed, it was dividing the community and that the battle was in Sacramento, not city hall.  Fred Whitaker, Mark Murphy and Kim Nichols approved the resolution, citing constitutional grounds that compelled them to follow federal law, not state law. 

Winthers’ letter to the ACLU further stated, “In any event the City of Orange does not operate a custodial facility and its employees, particularly its police officers, do not inquire of an individual’s immigration status.  Therefore the city has no interactions with federal immigration authorities triggering an application of Cal. Gov’t code 7282.4.”

“Why are we doing this?” a citizen wondered aloud during a break in the April 10 hearing.  “Why is the city wasting its time on an issue that will be decided in court?” 

Depending on the ACLU’s reaction to Attorney Winthers’ letter, the city may end up rescinding the resolution to avoid a separate court case of its own.

Orange resolution called out by ACLU

August 2018