A majority of the Fountain Valley City Council overcame a reluctance to spend public funds on joining the growing Orange County movement against California's so-called sanctuary immigration laws after U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher offered Tuesday to foot the bill for the city to file a court brief supporting a federal lawsuit targeting the laws.
Councilwoman Cheryl Brothers dissented in the 3-1 vote, saying any action would be "purely symbolic." Mayor Michael Vo abstained after earlier supporting Brothers' motion not to act.
Brothers said it cost the city $3,000 in legal time just to get the item on the agenda and that a brief would cost about $5,000 to $6,000 more. She said such an expenditure would be unwise given Fountain Valley's recent tight budgets.
Mayor Pro Tem Steve Nagel said he's against the sanctuary laws but initially supported a wait-and-see approach as the federal lawsuit proceeds. The case is pending.
"Doing nothing conflicts with my beliefs, but I also have made a pledge to the residents of Fountain Valley to only spend our money wisely," Nagel said. "I'm not sure if this is a wise move to get into lawsuits."
Rohrabacher, however, appeared at the speakers' podium to persuade the council to do just that. If money is an issue, he said, he would help raise it or would use some of his funds.
"Criminals that come here illegally do not deserve the type of protection that this law says," said Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa). "On top of it, the Constitution of the United States has been established to protect ordinary Americans."
Many in the standing-room-only crowd whooped and cheered, saying "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Dana."
The sanctuary laws, which expand protections for undocumented immigrants, include a mandate that in many cases prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal officials when immigrants in their custody who may be subject to deportation are about to be released.
The Los Alamitos City Council started an Orange County resistance in March when it passed an ordinance opting out of the laws. The county Board of Supervisors voted last week to join a Trump administration lawsuit that contends the laws obstruct federal immigration law. And on Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council voted to file its own lawsuit challenging the laws.
The vocal crowd at the Fountain Valley meeting spent much of the night volleying one-liners, shushing one another and urging speakers to sit down after their allotted time was up. About 50 people spoke and were split on whether the council should take legal action.
"Don't be afraid, don't sit on the sidelines. It's your guys' responsibility," Arely Posey said.
With the offer to cover the lawyers' fees, there is no longer a money issue, Jessica Runfola said.
"This is all about morals now and what's right," she said. "Rule of law of our Constitution? That's what's right. That's what you guys need to be supporting."
Matt Taylor said he doesn't believe undocumented immigrants are harmful to society and said Fountain Valley shouldn't be enforcing federal immigration law or weighing in on a federal lawsuit.
"I don't know why we are wasting this time and dividing our community over this when we don't really have any impact in the final legal decision that will be made," he said.
Some sanctuary supporters referred to anti-illegal immigrant sentiment expressed at the meeting as racism.
But Pamela Pauline of Santa Ana said, "I'm a little tired of being called a racist because I believe in the law."
After about three hours of discussion, Brothers moved to take no action. "We can't resolve any of this issue here locally," she said.
Vo supported her, but council members Nagel, Larry Crandall and John Collins did not.
Crandall, who asked for the item to be placed on the agenda, said he wanted the city to accept the offer of outside funding so the city could go on record as supporting federal law.
"The federal law trumps — supersedes — state law, and we don't have any other choice but to do that," Crandall said. "We hear all the other noise in the background about people calling people racist — how disgusting that is."
Nagel and Collins supported Crandall's motion to file the brief, with Brothers opposed and Vo abstaining.
The city has until Friday to file.