Local Debate Over Senate Bill 54 Shows Bitter Political, Ideological, Cultural And Philosophical Divide

The political leaders of six San Bernardino County cities have gone on record in various ways against Senate Bill 54, the so-called California Values Act passed by the California legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October.
In effect since January 1, Senate Bill 54 limits state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Specifically, the state law prohibits police in California from assisting immigration officers by informing them of immigrants they have arrested for most non-violent crimes, and disallows releasing those in their custody to immigration officials.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging Senate Bill 54 was violating the law by aiding and abetting illegal aliens. In March, the Los Alamitos City Council adopted an ordinance that exempted that small Orange County city which snuggles up against Los Angeles County from Senate Bill 54. Shortly thereafter, the Orange County Board of Supervisors signed Orange County on as a plaintiff in the federal government’s suit against the State of California over Senate Bill 54. Thereafter, a raft of Orange County cities likewise joined the protest against the state law.
In April, the City of Huntington Beach filed suit against the State of California in an action that was separate from the federal lawsuit, alleging “Constitutional overreach,” and extending an open invitation for other California municipalities to join with it in that lawsuit.
In San Bernardino County, similar sentiment against Senate Bill 54 manifested. On March 20, the Hesperia City Council in closed session instructed its city attorney to author an amicus brief in support of the federal government’s position. Ultimately, on May 1, the Hesperia City Council in open session approved joining an amicus brief prepared by the Immigration Reform Law Institute in support of the Department of Justice lawsuit asserting the supremacy of federal immigration laws.
On April 16, the Barstow City Council met in closed session and was given information from City Attorney Teresa Highsmith relating to its options in taking a stand with regard to cooperating with federal authorities in efforts to rein in illegal immigration in the face of the state restricting the city’s police department from doing so. The council directed Highsmith to facilitate having Barstow join the amicus brief if in her judgment by doing so the city would not face the prospect of accruing any legal fees. Highsmith took that as direction to sign on with the amicus opposition to Senate Bill 54.
The Yucaipa City Council on April 23 went on record as being opposed to California’s sanctuary state law and directed its city attorney to pen a letter of opposition to Senate Bill 54.
In the wee hours of April 24, during a council meeting that began at 6 p.m. on April 23, the Upland City Council, after a tumultuous public hearing with regard to whether the city should oppose the State of California’s tolerance of illegal immigration, voted to go on record in support of the federal government and against the provisions of California’s sanctuary state law.
On April 25, the Adelanto City Council instructed City Attorney Ruben Duran to draft a letter opposing Senate Bill 54 and express support for the U.S. Department of Justice both in carrying out its efforts to curb illegal immigration and in its lawsuit against California over Senate Bill 54. The council directed Duran to address the letter to both Governor Jerry Brown and the federal judge hearing the lawsuit.
On May 8, the Highland City Council voted 3-2 to send a letter of opposition to Sacramento taking issue with Senate Bill 54.
In Victorville, on May 15, at the suggestion of Councilman Eric Negrete, the city council took up a consideration of either supporting the federal suit by means of submitting an amicus brief or joining in as a plaintiff in the suit. Ultimately, however, though the majority sentiment on the council was that the California legislature was out of line in seeking to thwart federal authority, the panel collectively decided to allow the matter to play out in the courts without any official input from the City of Victorville.
In Apple Valley, after a number of residents registered opposition to the letter and spirit of Senate Bill 54, the town council there, led by councilwoman Barb Stanton, called for considering joining in the amicus brief in support of the federal government and its suit against California over its sanctuary policy. At press time, it had not yet been determined whether that item would come before the council on May 22 or June 12.
Out in the unincorporated county area of Lucerne Valley and Johnson Valley, the closest thing to that jurisdiction’s governing board, the Lucerne Valley/Johnson Valley Municipal Advisory Council, gave its president, Roger Peterson, authorization to write two letters, one to Third District Supervisor James Ramos importuning the board of supervisors to join other cities and counties in their protests and challenges of Senate Bill 54, and another to San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon, urging him to make a practice of posting to the internet the release dates of all inmates in the sheriff’s department’s custody.
On May 16, President Donald Trump held a White House roundtable at which California’s immigration policy was the subject of discussion. Barstow Mayor Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre, who was nominated to serve as the representative of San Bernardino County by Congressman Paul Cook, participated in the forum. During that confabulation, President Donald Trump said, “California’s law provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth.” He characterized the fashion in which Senate Bill 54 is hamstringing local law enforcement from passing information pertaining to illegal aliens arrested for crimes along to federal immigration authorities as a form of “catch and release.” He cited a Southern California case earlier this year to bolster his point. “In January, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested an illegal immigrant from Mexico for drug possession,” the president said. “Instead of honoring the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, they set him free. Just a few weeks later, he was arrested again, this time for murder. So they arrested him. They had him. They let him go. The State of California’s attempts to nullify federal law have sparked a rebellion by patriotic citizens who want their families protected and their borders secured. They want border security.”
Hackbarth-McIntyre decried state law that does not allow local law enforcement officials to arrest illegal immigrants for unlawful residency or to hold them for federal officials who have the unequivocal authority to make such arrests. “We can’t enforce anything,” she said. “The crime rate is up in California, and it’s going to continue to rise as long as these policies are blanketed across California. I think we’re ready to make the fight to California to say, ‘Enough is enough. We’re done.’”
In reaction to the roundtable, California Governor Jerry Brown accused the president of “lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of California. Flying in a dozen Republican politicians to flatter him and praise his reckless policies changes nothing. We, the citizens of the fifth largest economy in the world, are not impressed.”
The divergence between the president and the governor is reflected in the diametric attitudes of many of San Bernardino County’s residents. While there is a spectrum of perspective on the topic, at one extreme, undocumented immigrants are considered to be criminal aliens, without Constitutional rights reserved for American citizens, and those who support them, including members of the California legislature who voted to pass Senate Bill 54 and officials administering or adhering to it, are seen as aiders and abettors in what is tantamount to a criminal conspiracy. At the other extreme, those who do not support Senate Bill 54 are derided as racists out of step with the principles of tolerance, expansion, pioneering and populating so ingrained in the American way of life.
Belying the charges of racism thrown at those opposing Senate Bill 54 is the consideration that a sizable contingent of those taking issue with the California Values Act are Hispanic. Indeed, there appears to be no more strident opponent of Senate Bill 54 than Raymond Herrera, a U.S. Army Veteran who served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. Herrera has been railing against the lack of enforcement of U.S. Immigration laws, especially as applies to illegal immigrants who have engaged in other criminal activity beyond being in the country illegally, long before Senate Bill 54 was passed. And Herrera is by no means alone. At the April 23 Upland City Council meeting that dragged on until the morning hours of April 24, 48 spoke in one way or another in support of the City of Huntington Beach’s lawsuit and in opposition to Senate Bill 54, which they said had potentially dire consequences of exacerbating criminal activity by illegal immigrants and overburdening local law enforcement resources. They called for immigrants wishing to stay in California going through proper legal channels to become citizens. No fewer than ten of those 48 were Latinos.
The April 23 hearing in Upland was aimed at getting citizen input with regard to the city’s contemplated action of signing on to the litigation filed by the City of Huntington Beach. The city council, based at least partially upon concerns that becoming a party to the lawsuit might prove costly, did not vote to join the suit. After hearing from the 48 speakers opposed to Senate Bill 54 advocating for the city to either join in the lawsuit against it or provide an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in the existing suit as well as from 34 others who expressed support for Senate Bill 54 and opposition to joining, supporting or encouraging litigation against the California Values Act, the council, by a vote of 4-to-1, with councilwoman Janice Elliott dissenting, directed the city’s legal counsel to draft and file an amicus brief in the case of the City of Huntington Beach vs. the State of California, Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Javier Becerra supporting Upland’s right to participate with federal agencies in task force efforts such as those to preclude drug and human trafficking.
During the hearing, which lasted four hours, 57 minutes and 35 seconds, an encapsulation of the two sides in the debate over illegal immigration, California’s sanctuary state status and Senate Bill 54 was given, complete with vitriol and cacophonous segments that resulted in the proceedings being twice interrupted while the police were used to restore order.
Heidi Hall told the council, “I really do not understand why you would consider joining Huntington Beach. The Upland City Council cannot pick and choose what state laws it will and will not follow.” Hall said that by opposing Senate Bill 54, the council was “blatantly violating the State Constitution and wasting taxpayer money should we be sued by the American Civil Liberties Union. I’m sure you are aware the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Los Alamitos for taking the anti-sanctuary position. When a local council member seeks support by appealing to popular passions and prejudices, you create an atmosphere of us versus them. We’ve seen it tonight and it’s ugly. Putting this item on the agenda is doing that. It is with great sadness I say this. I for one, as a thirty-year resident of Upland, will encourage and support the American Civil Liberties Union to sue us, if you join forces with Huntington Beach. There are nearly one million immigrants living in the Inland Empire That’s one out of every five of us. We are your friends and we are your neighbors. You cannot allow this venomous and ugly irrational rage to continue to fester in our community.”
Elizabeth Stidham defended Senate Bill 54, saying “The final version allows officers to collaborate with federal investigations while informing that the cooperation should not be used in mass deportations. Senate Bill 54 is outside Upland PD’s scope of work. San Bernardino County Sheriff [John] McMahon stressed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not require identification for anyone other than jail inmates, but [the] Upland Police [Department] does not have a jail. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not be requesting data from Upland Police and it’s not fair for the federal government to burden our local police with responsibilities that belong to the feds. Local police should be focused on building trust with the community and keeping everyone safe. Some of the rhetoric in this room has been very disturbing to me. I would like you to consider what you want our city to stand for when you make your votes.”
Amritu Redding referenced “rising anxiety in immigrant communities and not just the undocumented immigrants.” She said “Forty percent of Upland residents are Hispanic.” She said studies show that immigrants who are victims of or witnesses to crime will not come forward to contact the police for fear that doing so will harm their ability to remain in residence.
Martha Morales, a pastor at Claremont United Methodist Church, told the council, “I’d like to urge you to continue to support Senate Bill 54. The involvement of our local police with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement inhibits crime fighting in our community such as domestic violence and sex trafficking, for 85 percent are less likely to report a crime because they believe police will ask them or the people they know about their immigration status. Seventy percent of undocumented immigrants reported that they are less likely to contact law enforcement authorities if they are victims of a crime. I’m a 35-year resident of Upland, and I would like to speak with respect to my neighbors of other faiths or my neighbors of no theistic faith. I share from my own Christian tradition. Jesus tells us the story of the Good Samaritan, a person who is hated in the community of Jesus – an outsider The Samaritan is the only one in the story who stopped to help a man who was beaten, robbed and left to die on the side of the road. After relating the story, Jesus asked, ‘Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He answered, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go, and do likewise.’ Not only does Jesus challenge us to be merciful, the example he offers is a Samaratian, one who was a hated outsider from his own community The compassion of Jesus reached beyond his cultural boundaries to all. Earlier in our Scriptures, we read in the Book of Deuteronomy, “You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice. You shall not take a widow’s garment in pledge. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. Therefore, I command you to do this. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left. It shall be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left. It shall be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt. Therefore, I am commanding you to do this.’ Our faith and our sense of right and wrong, the sense of the common good tells us that we need to include everyone. That’s how we can solve crime.”
Benjamin Wood told the council that acting Upland Police Chief Douglas Millmore had “dedicated the service of the department to all residents of Upland despite their immigration status and committed to follow the law,” specifically Senate Bill 54. “All individuals,” Wood said, “despite their immigration status, must feel secure when contacting the police.” Wood characterized those seeking to thwart Senate Bill 54 as a “hate group.” Wood encouraged the council to ask the city’s police officers if they wanted to be required to “act like immigration officers. If you ask your rank and file, the majority of them, the good officers, will say ‘no,’” he said.
Raymond Herrera told the council, “My aim has always been to fight illegal aliens who stand on America’s soil. I’d like to remind you that in 1776 we the people stepped out of the state of nature and incorporated into a civil society, the commonwealth of we the people of America. Since then the American creed has always been the moral pendulum of we the people up until 1986, when Ronald Reagan signed the first amnesty bill.”
It was at that point, Herrera said, 32 years before its passage, that “Senate Bill 54 came into effect. The City of Upland has always been under the State of Senate Bill 54. You’ve never enforced immigration laws. You’ve never enforced any laws on these illegal aliens in the City of Upland who stand on American soil. It’s the same for the County of San Bernardino, the State of California and across this nation, which brings me to the point, the essence for which government was created. The ends for which government was instituted was for the better protection of liberty and the pursuit of happiness of we the people, not illegal alien babies, not illegal alien fathers and mothers. So Senate Bill 54 has always been in effect. The City of Upland police force has never enforced any laws on the day labor site on illegal aliens that have infested the City of Upland. I have been here, before you, since 2005 and it really is a state of anarchy here in Upland and across the United States.”
Herrera said people are attacking President Trump for being too hard on illegal aliens, when in reality the president is not being aggressive enough in enforcing the exclusion of undocumented immigrants. “What I don’t get is the illegal aliens are being offered amnesty by President Donald Trump and they hate him,” said Herrera. “The Americans love Donald Trump and they support Donald Trump’s amnesty agenda. I’m a hardliner. I want to deport each and every illegal alien that stands on American soil. So I’m asking each and everyone of you in your station, what you are, the mayor the council members, to write a letter to President Trump requesting that he bring a thousand U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents into the City of Upland and find illegal aliens wherever they are to be found, in the schools, in the church, at roadblocks. Let the federal government enforce their laws. There’s no reason for you to enforce them. It’s the federal government’s responsibility.”
Frank Dean asked the council, “Why do we want to hamper law enforcement? Why do we want to protect the criminals?”
Fernando Romero said those opposed to Senate Bill 54 were an “extreme hate group.” He likened the atmosphere in which large numbers of people were massing to protest against the California Values Act to “1930s Germany. This could be Upland’s Kristallnacht that you are voting on,” he said. “Can you feel the hate in this room? Your job is not to enforce immigration policies.”
Reuben Rodriguez said, “This was native American land. This country was built off of slaves and immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants. I am a supporter of Senate Bill 54. Upland is a small town but we do have a big heart. We should give that big heart to all of our immigrants, regardless of undocumented status. Don’t vote on the wrong side of history, because there has been a repetition of excluding immigrants from the get-go of our founding. We as Americans – I am a proud American. I am also proud of my Mexican heritage – we got to recognize the good and bad of our U.S. history. We don’t want to exclude our immigrant community like we have done in previous generations. Let’s start a progressive and positive generation.”
Louis Reyes said, “We have a line in America and when you cross that line, you’re illegal. Sanctuary cities are harboring illegal aliens and criminal illegal aliens and drug dealers. Don’t let them fool you, folks. This is a Trojan Horse and you have to look at it as such. We have to do something about our out of control state government. Federal law trumps state law.”
Toni Holle said, “It really frustrates me that there is this equation between immigrants and illegals. My grandparents were immigrants. They came over from Italy. They became citizens They raised my father with a pride of being American and he passed that on to me. For these people to sit here and say that we are a hate group when we are patriots and we stand for law, and that’s what SB 54 is going against. It’s about safety. Your own [police] captain said it’s important, because otherwise the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are going into the community. Senate Bill 54 is a bad, bad thing. Just because our legislators up in Sacramento made it a law does not mean it is a good law. I’m a Christian and I take offense to people saying that if I’m a Christian I have to be accepting of people breaking the law.”
In Victorville this week, when the discussion regarding Senate Bill 54 took place on the dais at the council meeting, the same dichotomy of opinion was on display. Those on one side consider Senate Bill 54 to be antithetical of the sensible exercise of national sovereignty by which the federal government has not just the right but the duty to closely monitor those who come into the country, insist that they do so through legal means and in accordance with the law and that those who defy the law should be banned from enjoying residency here and deported. Those on the other side believe that adherence to those exclusionary rules betrays a mean-spiritedness that borders on fascism.
Councilman Eric Negrete, who had sparked the public debate in Victorville by requesting that a discussion of Senate Bill 54 and a potential response to it by the city be placed on the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, deplored that “California is becoming a third-world country” and opined that the majority of the state’s legislature was rooted in “anti-American” and “stupid” ideologies.
In contrast, his colleague, Councilwoman Blanca Gomez, characterized Negrete, because of his opposition to Senate Bill 54, as a “brown Nazi.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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