SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) — California and its Democratic-controlled Legislature have courted a reputation for leading resistance against the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown.
But at the local level, there’s a brewing backlash.
On Tuesday, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted to condemn the state’s sanctuary law and to join a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit that contends it’s unconstitutional.
The law, Senate Bill 54, limits police cooperation with federal immigration authorities. It’s a capstone of the effort by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators who, along with the mayors of the largest cities, have resisted more stringent efforts to deport people who are in the country illegally and opposed Trump’s call to build a wall along the entire U.S. border with Mexico.
Orange County, which is home to 3.2 million people and many immigrants, has seen its decades-long reputation as a conservative GOP base erode. Hillary Clinton won more votes than Trump in the county in the 2016 election.
But on Tuesday its all-Republican Board of Supervisors voted 4-0 to join the federal lawsuit filed earlier this month against SB 54 and two other pro-immigrant state laws.
Supervisor Michelle Steel, an immigrant from South Korea, told the crowd that fixing the country’s immigration system will take time. “Along the way, law enforcement should absolutely cooperate fully within the constraints of federal law,” she said.
About a dozen people wearing American flags and holding signs reading “Support Our Constitution” cheered the board’s actions.
“We cannot have all the states with different immigration laws. It just doesn’t make sense,” Doris Matyasovich told the board. “Our constitutional republic depends on following the rule of law.”
Immigrant advocates, however, felt the supervisors had taken a step back in a county where, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fully a third of the residents are immigrants.
“History tells us that we will win. So I will be able to look in my children’s and grandchildren’s eyes and tell them I was on the right side of history,” Bethany Anderson of Fullerton told supervisors. “Will you be able to do that?”
State Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles Democrat who wrote the sanctuary law, called the decision a “pretty sad use of taxpayer resources.”
“This kind of obsessive immigrant bashing is embarrassing to the county and its residents, and seems designed to court the approval of a racist President and his cronies,” he said in a statement.
The move does highlight longstanding divisions over immigration in California. For years, some local governments have sought to help federal immigration agents pick up prisoners from their jails to prevent them from being released back into their communities, while others have tried to keep their distance to encourage immigrant residents to trust police enough to come forward to report crimes.
In Orange County, the small city of Los Alamitos recently approved an ordinance to exempt itself from the state’s sanctuary law while leaders in the county seat of Santa Ana — a self-declared immigrant sanctuary — will consider filing an amicus brief to support California in federal court.
The county also moved this week to improve communication with federal immigration agents by publishing the release dates of inmates online. The Sheriff’s Department used to screen inmates in the county’s jails to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents identify those subject to deportation but had to stop when the state law passed.