Monday, March 27, 2017

California: Potential sanctuary state?

A few weeks ago, UC Davis Law School alumni and Mayor Pro Tempore of the City of Woodland, Enrique Fernandez, visited our class to discuss the potential of Woodland joining the California trend of becoming a sanctuary city. While the term sanctuary city does not have a precise legal meaning, in the United States the term refers to a city that welcomes refugees and illegal immigrants. For many undocumented immigrants, the term sanctuary city suggests a "shield from deportation."

However, many misconceptions exist concerning sanctuary cities. Marissa Montes, co-director of the Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic at Loyola Marymount University Law School in Los Angeles, told USA Today:
The biggest misconception is that people think that when you declare yourself a sanctuary it means that there is absolutely no contact with ICE, and that is not true. If ICE wanted to have a raid in downtown LA and did everything procedurally correct, like get a warrant, the city would not be able to stop them.
This blog has recently discussed President Trump's immigration policies (see here, and here). In January, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at cracking down on sanctuary cities that are limiting cooperation between state and local law enforcement and federal immigration agents. According to the executive order, named "Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States," cities that do not comply with federal immigration enforcement agents per 8 U.S.C. 1373 “are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes by the Attorney General or the Secretary.”

Some of the largest cities in California–including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento–have so-called sanctuary city policies prohibiting police from cooperating with immigration authorities. However, many other cities and most rural areas in the state do not.

Recently, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand, vowed that Fresno will not become a sanctuary city, bucking the trend among large California cities. Fresno (my hometown) is the fifth biggest city in California by population, bigger than Sacramento–the state's capitol. Fresno County is home to million acres of the world’s most productive farmland, with agricultural operations covering nearly half of the county’s entire land base of 3.84 million acres. Farmers in Fresno raise more than 350 different crops, contributing more than $5.6 billion directly to the California economy and supporting 20 percent of jobs in the Fresno area. Because agriculture comprises such a significant portion of Fresno's economy, the city and county of Fresno–including small towns outside of Fresno–are heavily dependent on migrant farmworkers. This blog recently discussed how President Trump's immigration policies could kill the agricultural economy in California's Central Valley.

It seems paradoxical that areas like Fresno, which rely on immigrant and migrant labor, would not fight to protect against policies that could potentially devestate the local and state economy. However, President Trump's threat to cut federal funding provides some explanation. Mayor Brand explained to the Fresno Bee:
I’m not going to make Fresno a sanctuary city because I don’t want to make Fresno ineligible from receiving potentially millions of dollars in infrastructure and other types of projects. My philosophy is to follow the law and to avoid these national culture-war questions.
Yet, Californian government officials have vowed to fight back against President Trump and GOP proposals despite President Trump's threats.

In his State of the State address on January 24, 2017, California Governor Edmund (Jerry) G. Brown Jr. promised to continue forcefully defending those in the United States illegally against new proposals by President Donald Trump and national Republican leadership. Specifically, Governor Brown stated:
[I]n California, immigrants are an integral part of who we are and what we've become. They have helped create the wealth and dynamism of this state from the very beginning. I recognize that under the Constitution, federal law is supreme and that Washington determines immigration policy. But as a state we can and have had a role to play. California has enacted several protective measures for the undocumented: the Trust Act, lawful driver's licenses, basic employment rights and non-discriminatory access to higher education.
California is known to be one of the most progressive states, often setting trends for the rest of the country in terms of policy and regulation. In that vein, Governor Brown ended his address saying, "California is not turning back. Not now, not ever."

Recently introduced by Senate President Pro Tem De León, Senate Bill 54, fights to make California a sanctuary state. The Bill, officially titled the California Values Act, would prohibit local and state agencies from using state resources to communicate with federal agents, with a few exceptions (such as task forces involving federal and local agencies). With minor changes to win over moderates, the Bill–perhaps the Legislature’s highest-profile act of defiance against the Trump administration–cleared a key hurdle Monday, March 13th and will head to the full Senate for a vote.

California cannot stop federal immigration agents from conducting raids within the state, but that is not stopping the state from fighting back against President Trump's policies. It will be interesting to see how the Trump administration will respond to California's defiance and how rural communities and the state economy will (hopefully) benefit from new state-wide sanctuary policies.


EAG said...

I understand why the mayor of Fresno hesitates to make the city a sanctuary city. But as your blog post and other posts have pointed out, the economies of Fresno and other rural agirculture cities heavily depend on immigrant labor. Fresno, as a larger city, may be able to easily bounce back from a major ICE raid but other rural areas may not. For instance, take the infamous Potsville raid wher ICE arrested nearly 400 undocumented immigrant workers at a meatpacking plant ( After this raid, Potsville lost 1,000 of its 3,000 residents. Some people were deported, some followed their deported family members back to their home countries and others fled from fear of future action. With no customers businesses closed, housing was left vacant and property values dropped, and without workers the meatpacking plant closed. The plant has since reopened under a new name, but the raid still haunts Potsville. ( Rural cities dependent on undocumented immigrants to sustain their economies should learn from Potsville and consider adopting sanctuary-city policies to avoid such a tragedy in the future.

Kaly said...

One of the things I found most interesting about the Mayor Pro Tempore of the City of Woodland Enrique Fernandez's visit was the point he made about the label "Sanctuary City", and how little that description actually means. It's not really a term of art yet (although it may be in the future), and cities can quietly enact policies similar to those in cities that are deemed Sanctuary Cities without acquiring that label. Perhaps, if activists wanted, Fresno could do something similar to that.

I'm also interested to see how the withholding of federal funds actually plays out, or if it will even come to pass. I'm warily optimistic that it will be just another one of Trumps Sound and Fury promises.