By Mark Gutglueck
Unlike six of their municipal counterparts elsewhere in San Bernardino County, the Chino Hills and Chino city councils appear to have demurred at requests by some of their residents to join in with or otherwise endorse legal challenges of Senate Bill 54.
Introduced during the first day of the 2017 California legislative session as a direct response to President Donald Trump’s stated plan to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities and step up immigration enforcement, Senate Bill 54, also referred to as the so-called California Values Act, was 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 without a warrant.
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging Senate Bill 54 was violating federal 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 and 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 directed City Attorney Teresa 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, by a 4-to-1 vote, 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, following a tumultuous public hearing that began in the evening of April 23, the Upland City Council voted 4-to-1 to register its 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. On May 8, the Highland City Council voted 3-2 to send a letter of opposition to Sacramento taking issue with Senate Bill 54. On May 22, the Apple Valley Town Council unanimously passed a resolution relating to Senate Bill 54, calling upon both California and federal officials to “find cooperative solutions to the problem of illegal immigration that do not impact the ability of local law enforcement to interact with federal authorities.”
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.
A group calling itself the Chino-Chino Hills Coalition to Fight SB 54 some weeks ago began pressuring the city councils in both Chino and Chino Hills to add their collective cities’ weight to those municipalities who have endorsed uniformity in the federal government’s, state government’s and local government’s approach to collaring immigration scofflaws and deporting them, and they have called for eliminating the red tape that prevents cooperation between the various law enforcement bodies from exchanging information with regard to non-citizens who have been arrested or prohibits local and state authorities from handing those arrestees over to federal officials.
The Chino City Council has pretty much disregarded those calls.
On May 22, the group’s unofficial leader, Jason Tullai, accompanied by eight others of like mind, came before the Chino Hills City Council at its final meeting of the month to make the most concerted call yet for the Chino Hills City Council to go on record against Senate Bill 54 and the official declaration of California as a sanctuary state.
Tullai reiterated his persistent advocacy against the State of California’s liberalization of its immigration enforcement policy, calling for Chino Hills to sign on to the crusade against Senate Bill 54. Tullai said he wanted the Chino Hills City Council to “at a minimum vote to adopt a resolution opposing SB 54, AB [Assembly Bill] 450, AB 103, known as the Sanctuary State Laws. There’s no legal risk to the city in adopting such a resolution,” he said. “SB 54 is not about dreamers. It prohibits law enforcement from providing information to federal authorities about the release date of undocumented immigrants who are in their custody, and actually bans the transfer of these criminal immigrants to federal custody. This makes no sense and jeopardizes our safety.”
He cited the case of Jose Zarate, an illegal alien who had seven felony convictions but was released without notification to the federal authorities by law enforcement officers in San Francisco, a self-declared sanctuary city. Zarate subsequently shot a woman named Kate walking along a pier in San Francisco. “If Jose Zarate would have been transferred to federal officers, Kate would still be alive,” Tullai asserted. “You are elected officials. Don’t you feel any obligation to protect us, the citizens? Sacramento has turned this into a sanctuary state and criminals are being released. These criminals are committing additional crimes, and yes, killing people. These crimes are preventable. Don’t let blood be on your hands. Please put on your agenda a vote to address the state sanctuary laws. Stop hiding and playing games. We deserve to know where you stand.”
Linda Hazleton of Upland said her father was an immigrant who achieved citizenship upon coming to America. She appealed to the council “to make some statement concerning SB 54. There is a right way to become an American citizen and anything else is illegal. It puts the citizenry in a difficult position, because if we don’t speak up it means we affirm what city councils have decided to do, what the state has decided to do. If the tide ever turns, and with this president I hope that it would, and it comes to a question of who decided that the problem of dealing with illegal aliens was going to be dealt with the way it was, the citizenry that hadn’t spoken up would be just as guilty of braking federal law as any council member who decided not to speak up against it.”
Jim Gallagher said, “I’m here in defense of SB 54. Last week the California Senate and more than 20 cities and counties have come out in support of SB 54, which limits law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agencies, but with caveats. Entangling state and local agencies with federal immigration enforcement usurps limited resources, blurs lines of accountability and distorts trust between officers and the community. I think in this community we have good trust between our residents and law enforcement right now. California has made a judgment that separating civil immigration enforcement, which is a federal duty, from local law enforcement, general policing, makes our community safer.”
Judi Neal said the Trust Act of 2014 protects illegal immigrants who come forth to report crimes, eliminating the need for Senate Bill 54. “You all swore an oath office first to protect the Constitution of the United States of America, secondly to the state,” she said. “Article Six circumvents any state law. Remember that when you consider what is going on.” She said there were 40 cities “that’ve signed on to opt out of SB 54. We have nine counties throughout the State of California that are also opting out. We need to protect American citizens who have the right to be protected. We do not need to have Immigration and Customs Enforcement running around in our neighborhoods looking for hardened criminals We have an obligation to our citizens to keep our state safe, our streets safe.”
Wendy Gish said many immigrants come into California illegally and that a significant number of those who come in legally eventually violate immigration regulations. “Forty percent overstay their visa,” she said. Of those who never registered, she said, “We have no idea who they are. Would you invite somebody into your house whom you do not know? I wouldn’t. Here’s the problem: We don’t know who is coming across that border.” She said the liberalization of California’s criminal laws had made many crimes that were formerly felonies misdemeanors, such that illegal immigrants are now free to violate those laws and not be deported for doing so. “They can steal up to $950 per day because that’s no longer considered a felony,” she said.
Linnie Drolet said, We’re asking you because you are on the ground right here – you are not in Sacramento and you’re not in Washington, D.C. – to hear our voices because this is an issue that has been created outside of this city, but now it is affecting your citizens. You need to take note and you need to let them be heard and you need to represent the citizens of your city and the citizens of California and the citizens of America, not people who are here because they came in the back door and they wanted something that we have. They are welcome when they come in the front door and when they do it the right way. My hope is you will opt out of SB 54.”
Carol Houghton called SB 54 an“unconstitutional law that threatens to sue and fine law enforcement agencies that do what law enforcement agencies have done for decades, which is turn illegal immigrant criminals over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We are talking about people who are let out of jail. We’re not talking about people who are walking down the street. I know you have had discussion about this among yourselves. You are not telling us whether you are for it or against it, but you should. This should be an open discussion, where you tell us what you think and we tell you why we’re thinking what we do and why we believe what we do. We have no idea what your objections are or if you even agree with us. There are not many opportunities for the cities of California to tell Sacramento what they think. This is a wonderful exception.”
Dana Lamb said, “I do not feel it is right to burden our city council with a national and state dispute over sanctuary status. There is absolutely no evidence we have a crime problem in Chino Hills related to non-documented immigrants. I do not believe for a minute this is some kind of a crisis for our community on any level, just a ploy to incite more anger on both sides of this question. I would strongly recommend that the city council pass on any involvement in this debate. Please don’t get suckered into the strategy of political organizations that are outside our community and when the dust finally settles will not stick around to heal the wounds they inflict. They will drain our finances with pointless and expensive litigation. This is one of the ugliest aspects of the direction of our polarized country, and the symbolism of this empty gesture will only drive a deeper wedge between friends and neighbors of our town.”
Al Matta said he saw in the raising of the issue “a dilemma.” He referenced “veterans who fought and died” in America’s wars. “If they were looking down at this country now, they wouldn’t be too happy. Maybe a tear in their eye would come because this country of ours is becoming divided.” Matta said intolerance was becoming the watchword, though he did not seem to imply that it was intolerance of illegal aliens that was the problem, but rather intolerance of those who were critical of the liberalization of society. Matta referenced AB 2943, a legal prohibition against attempting to dissuade or convert someone from engaging in homosexuality, which in its body states “Contemporary science recognizes that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness.”
Matta said, “Here is AB 2943, an attack on speech and religious freedom They are going to vote on that. So if you say something and give your opinion to someone, you could be put in jail. It would be a crime [to express an opposition to the practice of homosexuality]. That’s terrible. This thing we’re talking about: I’m first generation here. My parents were from Mexico. My father became a natural[ized] citizen in 1948. My mother didn’t want to do that. She held onto her green card. I was called ‘wetback, beanhead,’ everything you can talk about, but this was freedom of speech. My dad told me, ‘Al, don’t get mad. In America, you have freedom of speech and if somebody calls you an SOB, so be it. You know who you are. The integrity of the person, that’s important.’”
Matta continued, “I ran for city council. I didn’t have all that money, but I was able to run, like each and every one of you, and you won. The following day, I was still an American and I was entitled to freedom of speech. Let it be known, I’d rather have somebody cuss me out in front of my face than to smile at me and stab me in the back. I can fight any man, no matter how big and tall he is, provided his hands are tied, his feet are tied, and he’s gagged, I could be a winner. But it’s not like that. So, remember. You took an oath, and that’s a very important one. Today, the mayor led the pledge of allegiance. Pledge of allegiance,” he emphasized, “of the United States of America. It’s not the United States of a few.”
Dave Master said, “I love being in this city. I think the city is run well. I have no qualms with supporting most of the decision made by the city. You manage money real well. We’re one of the best run cities I have seen. I don’t like to see problems created when there are none, and I think sometimes not doing something is the best way [rather] than doing something that is wrong. Right now, is there a problem with illegal immigrants? We had the police people tell us, ‘No. Mostly it’s young people who break in on days off. That’s not an illegal immigrant problem. So, we don’t have that problem. What are we dealing with here? The second thing is I pay taxes here and most of us who are here pay taxes in this city. If the people in another city would like to pay taxes to go on a wild goose chase, they should do that. That’s their right as Americans, to do that in their city, but I don’t want to pay taxes and I don’t want to have my city council people running around, looking up things, doing this, doing that. That costs us money. They could be putting that to other things [such as] public works. I’d rather see our city concentrate on those things and not pay money to have people running which legal thing should we do. That all costs money. If we don’t have a problem, why create one?”
Chris Alcala from Chino told the council “I have been here all my life. I have family who are Mexicans and all that, some that are criminals and some that are not. I’ve got to tell you that those people who are criminals, I would not invite them into my house. I urge you guys to vote to opt out of SB 54 because all of you here, when you parked your car, did you lock your car, or did you leave it open? When you go to your house and you go to bed at night, do you lock your doors? It’s a safety issue. Whether we like it or not, it’s come to Chino Hills. Not now, but it’s coming and if we don’t stop it now, if we don’t do something, it is going to come here. The crime is going to come. I’ve seen a lot of it.”
Iris Mann, a resident of Diamond Bar said, “All this rhetoric about danger and criminal illegal immigrants, it is just not supported by empirical data. I would ask that you make your decision on research and facts and evidence rather than fearmongering, hate rhetoric that has no ties to facts or evidence. There’s no evidence to suggest immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are more prone to committing crimes.” Referencing the libertarian Cato Institute, the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Academy of Sciences, Mann said, “There’s a lot of data and research out there. I’d ask that you go to that before you go forward with listening to people who live way out of the district or in your town. I ask that you do research and make decisions based on that rather than divisive hate-filled unnecessary action that just will further divide, cause anxiety among the people living in your city.”
The council listened to those comments, which were delivered during the public input portion of the council meeting. As no item pertaining to any of the issues addressed was slated for discussion or action by the council, the panel merely took the comments under advisement.
Later in the meeting, Sheriff’s Captain Darren Goodman, who heads the Chino Hills substation, which functions as Chino Hills’ police department, thus making Goodman Chino Hills’ police chief, said “To the point that law enforcement cannot and does not release information on inmates being released from custody, we, the sheriff’s department, does put that information on the website. We don’t distinguish what their immigration status is, but that information is public, so if any federal authorities would like to check to see that, they could. The other issue that was misstated was that we are banned from transferring inmates into the custody of federal officials. What is true is that we need a warrant to do so. That’s where, I guess, the angst is, because we have to start following the law, which says we cannot hold them without a warrant. There’s another point about notification on serious offenses. That point is accurate. We don’t provide notification except for those more serious offenses. It requires it to be a felony. It requires them to have committed a felony within five years. Finally, there was a comment posed as a question as to whether the immigration issue in its entirety is affecting Chino Hills proper, our city, and the answer to that statistically is ‘no.’”
Mayor Peter Rogers asked Goodman if a letter of opposition to SB 54 was written, would it impact how the sheriff’s office functions.
“There has been a number of cities in the county that contract with the sheriff’s department that have done so,” Goodman said, “most recently the Cities of Highland and Yucaipa, to my recollection. That is not going to affect how we do business, because we are still going to follow state law.”
Despite the requests that the city place a discussion and action item relating to signing an amicus brief to support the challenge of Senate Bill 54, the Chino Hills City Council did not take up the issue at its June 12 council meeting, amid suggestions from the city’s leadership that it did not feel Senate Bill 54 is having a significant impact on the community.
In this way, Chino Hills has joined with Chino and Victorville as San Bernardino County cities that have elected to bypass taking action with regard to Senate Bill 54 and the political maelstrom it represents.
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.
By Mark Gutglueck