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Newport Beach is the latest city to fight California 'sanctuary state' law

The Newport Beach City Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night opposing California's key "sanctuary state" law and said it might follow up with a court brief supporting a federal lawsuit against recently enacted policies that aim to expand protections for people in the United States illegally.

The resolution specifically targets Senate Bill 54, which in many cases prohibits local law enforcement from alerting federal immigration agents when detainees who may be subject to deportation are released from custody.

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As it did last year when it voted to send a letter against the bill while it was still being considered in the Legislature, the council emphasized a law enforcement angle.

"This is not an immigrant issue. We're all immigrants in this country," Councilman Scott Peotter said. "It is really (about) our police force being able to effectively fight criminals and coordinate with other agencies that do the same."

The resolution states, in part, that "the City Council is committed to protecting the city of Newport Beach's residents through the enforcement of local, state and federal laws. The adoption of SB 54 has created a conflict between state and federal law and has restricted local law enforcement's ability to cooperate with federal authorities to protect California residents.

"The conflict leaves the City Council no choice but to publicly state its opposition to SB 54."

A U.S. Justice Department lawsuit challenging the state's sanctuary policies contends they obstruct federal immigration law and thus violate the Constitution's supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence over state law.

Other California laws that are aimed at protecting immigrants who are in the country illegally from deportation include one shielding workers from workplace raids and one creating a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.

In a separate closed session Tuesday, the council unanimously authorized the city attorney's office to act to support the federal lawsuit, "including but not limited to filing an amicus brief," said City Attorney Aaron Harp.

U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, who previously appeared at meetings of the Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley city councils and the Orange County Board of Supervisors to endorse the federal lawsuit, likewise urged Newport Beach to push back.

"This is an outrage," said Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). "It's leaving our people in a vulnerable situation where the law enforcement people can't even work together. This is a crisis moment."

More than 40 people other spoke, with a nearly even split for and against sanctuary.

Tyler Wong, a junior at Sage Hill School in Newport Coast, said there is no need for Newport to attach itself to a federal lawsuit that is already underway.

"I have a lot of homework today and I wouldn't be standing outside for two hours to speak if this wasn't an issue that was important to me," he said.

Wong said laws need to be respected but that taking action against the sanctuary law isn't in the city's best interests.

"The city of Newport Beach can do a lot better than this, and I strongly encourage you all to humanize this and also take into account what our priorities as a city are," he said.

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In opposing sanctuary, Kim Sorgente riffed on the widely quoted Martin Niemöller, a Hitler foe who was imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps for his criticism. Niemöller's famous poem ended with the line "Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me."

"First they came for the murderers, because the murderers are really bad all right," Sorgente said. "Then they came for the rapists and muggers. And then they came for the illegal aliens. But they didn't come for me, because I'm a lawful citizen. And then America was great again, because we respected laws and we got rid of those who don't respect the law."

Newport Beach joins several local governments in Orange County in opposing sanctuary. Los Alamitos ignited the resistance in March with a council vote to exempt the city from SB 54. Since then, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has voted to join the federal lawsuit, Huntington Beach filed its own, and Fountain Valley signed on to a law group's brief supporting the federal case. Costa Mesa is studying the issue.

San Juan Capistrano, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Orange and Yorba Linda also have taken stands against the sanctuary laws.

Rosio Lara, a Mexican immigrant, said at Tuesday's Newport Beach meeting that immigrants come to the United States to work hard.

"We work as the nannies, as the gardeners, as the caregivers; everything, more than that," she said before turning to critics seated behind her. "You don't need to laugh at me."

A man who said his parents are Mexican immigrants told the council not to listen to people who want the sanctuary laws.

"Growing up, it was always conservative business owners from Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach who helped my immigrant parents," said the man, who identified himself only as Francisco. "They gave them jobs. They gave them opportunity. The Democrats and liberals have done nothing for my family and for me."

Others emphasized public safety — with SB 54 and without.

Omar Siddiqui, a Costa Mesa lawyer and a Democratic challenger to Rohrabacher in this year's congressional election, said opposing the sanctuary law divides and threatens communities.

"Playing politics with people's lives puts us all at risk," he said. "Our national motto is 'E pluribus unum' — out of many, we are one. Please uphold that motto."

Ruth Kobayashi spoke in support of police.

"This issue for me is clearly a law enforcement issue, regardless of any of our views on legal or illegal immigration," she said.

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