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L.A. city attorney says new limits on assisting immigration agents don't violate federal rules

New restrictions that limit how Los Angeles city workers can assist with immigration enforcement do not violate federal rules, City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a report for city lawmakers this week.

The question is especially crucial as President Trump seeks to strip funds from “sanctuary” cities that refuse to cooperate fully with immigration agents. L.A. has joined a legal brief arguing that the executive order, now put on hold by a federal judge, is unconstitutional.

There is no official definition of a sanctuary city — and Los Angeles has not officially declared itself one.

But L.A. leaders have sought to limit city assistance to federal immigration agents: Earlier this year, Mayor Eric Garcetti issued an executive directive that prohibits city employees from gathering information about citizenship or immigration status unless it is legally required or mandated by policy.

Feuer also issued guidelines to city departments this week saying that L.A. does not have to allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to enter into any city facilities that are not open to the general public — such as areas restricted to city employees — unless there is a warrant or court order.

Federal immigration agents can, however, access any city facilities that are open to the general public to question people or arrest them, the guidelines state. Under the guidelines, city employees are not supposed to interfere, but are expected to document what happens and tell their supervisors.

Feuer maintains that none of those rules violate a key federal government code — Section 1373 — that involves immigration enforcement. Under that rule, local governments cannot bar their employees from providing immigration agents with requested information about citizenship and immigration status.

He said that although Garcetti imposed restrictions on when employees can gather that kind of information, the executive directive does not bar them from handing over any information that the city already possesses.

Instead, it effectively “reduces the volume of information that the city might have to provide to ICE,” the city attorney wrote.

Beyond the new rules and guidelines, the Los Angeles Police Department has long had a policy, Special Order 40, that prohibits officers from initiating contact with a person to ask about immigration status. Feuer wrote that an appeals court had already found that the policy did not violate Section 1373.

Garcetti has repeatedly emphasized, including in his State of the City address, that "the LAPD will never act as a federal immigration force." But immigrant rights advocates have urged the city to do more to distance itself from federal immigration enforcement and expand Special Order 40.

“Now more than ever, it’s critical that LAPD draw a very clear line between themselves and federal immigration agents so they can assure the community that when they cooperate with the police, it will not put them at risk of deportation,” said Michael Kaufman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.

Opponents of illegal immigration, in turn, have been critical of L.A. and its policies. Robin Hvidston, executive director of the Claremont-based group We the People Rising, said the new guidelines on accessing city facilities would shield people who live illegally in Los Angeles.

Feuer “should be focused on cooperating with the Trump administration in the effort to achieve security and public safety nationwide by deporting criminal aliens … It is disappointing that the city attorney is working diligently on behalf of those illegally present — cranking out memos in their defense,” Hvidston said in an email.

The new report does not address the practice of immigration detainers, in which ICE asks jurisdictions to hold inmates who are in the country illegally in jail beyond their release dates. The LAPD does not heed such requests unless they have been vetted by a judge.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

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