The vote followed intense comments by residents who packed the tiny council chambers to speak for and against the effort
By Amy Taxin
LOS ALAMITOS, Calif. — The heated battle over
immigration exploded in a small Southern California city as elected
officials took steps to opt out of a state law limiting cooperation
between police and federal deportation agents.
Residents in the
tight-knit Orange County community of Los Alamitos packed the City
Council chambers Monday night as leaders voted 4-1 in favor of a measure
to declare the city exempt from California's so-called sanctuary law,
citing constitutional concerns.
The move in the city of 12,000 mostly American-born residents has
stoked intense passions among those opposed to illegal immigration and
those who think local police should focus on crime-fighting, not
Longtime resident and former Mayor Gerri Mejia urged
council members to pass the measure, which requires a second vote to
take effect. Another meeting is expected April 16.
"This is simply just to protect us from those who might cause us harm," she said.
vote in the community 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of downtown
Los Angeles comes less than two weeks after U.S. Attorney General Jeff
Sessions sued California over the state's law barring police in many
cases from turning suspects over to federal agents for deportation.
largely Democratic leaders have vowed to defend the law, which passed
last year in response to stepped-up deportations by the Trump
Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said police have not
raised concerns about California's law. But he said he gets an earful
from residents about the state's intrusion into local governing and felt
his city should take a stand.
"It's just kind of hit a boiling point for us," Edgar said.
Tellez, a teacher and longtime resident, said she does not want the
children of immigrants in her city to live in fear of their parents
being deported and does not want her tax dollars spent on costly
"This process is not logical for such a small city," she told the council.
advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern
California, said Los Alamitos must follow state law and will be sued if
the measure passes.
"State law is not a recommendation," said Emi
MacLean, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
"It is not optional."
Aaron Caplan, a professor at Loyola Law
School in Los Angeles, largely agreed. He said a city can adopt its own
measures but should expect to defend them in court.
"They can't opt out of state law and automatically win," he said.
Los Alamitos, many residents asked why the city wanted to jump into the
already heated fight over immigration and urged leaders to let state
and federal officials hash it out in court.
Democrats in Los Alamitos, but like many Orange County communities, the
city narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential
election over Donald Trump, voting data shows.
If the measure
passes, it isn't entirely clear how it will affect daily life in the
city known for its strong public schools and a U.S. military base.
vast majority of residents — 86 percent — were born in the United
States. Most of those who came from other countries have become
naturalized U.S. citizens, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Los Alamitos is surrounded by larger and more diverse communities that
are home to more immigrants, and visitors are drawn to the area by a
nearby horse racetrack.
While the city is spread across bustling
avenues and near a freeway, some shops retain an old-town feel. The
local chamber of commerce has offices in a cottage, and an old-fashioned
barbershop is across the street.
Tony Cobian, who owns a local
diner, said many people in the community know one another and try to
help others out. The 22-year-old doesn't see why the state and federal
government, and now the city, are sparring over immigration.
think the government needs to get itself together and agree," Cobian
said. "We should be like this little community — small and united."