The Fountain Valley councilman who led the city’s decision to formally oppose California’s “sanctuary state” mandates said Friday that he was unaware the legal group that prepared a brief that Fountain Valley joined in support of a federal lawsuit targeting the state’s immigration policies is affiliated with an organization labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Councilman Larry Crandall added that he still agrees with the decision to attach the city to the Immigration Reform Law Institute’s brief, saying he shares its position that federal laws supersede state laws.
“The rule of law is the rule of law,” he said.
The brief, filed in federal court Friday, is in support of a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit challenging California’s sanctuary laws, which aim to expand protection from deportation for immigrants who are in the country illegally.
The laws include the California Values Act, or 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. The Immigrant Worker Protection Act (Assembly Bill 450) shields authorized workers from workplace raids, and another law, AB 103, created a state inspection program for federal immigration detention centers.
The Immigration Reform Law Institute, based in Washington, D.C., is the legal affiliate of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which says on its website that it “seeks to reduce overall immigration to a more normal level.”
FAIR describes the law institute as “the only public interest nonprofit law firm in the United States devoted exclusively to protecting the rights and interests of Americans in immigration-related matters.”
However, the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated FAIR as an anti-immigrant hate group, saying its “leaders have ties to white supremacist groups and eugenicists and have made many racist statements.”
IRLI spokesman Brian Lonergan pointed to a Fox News op-ed by John Stossel calling the Southern Poverty Law Center “a money-grabbing slander machine.”
“Elected officials in California are free to name their bills the California Values Act and the like, but the federal government and the Constitution speak for Californians on matters of immigration,” Dale Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI, said in a statement.
Fountain Valley City Manager Rob Houston said city officials had no previous knowledge of IRLI but had heard about the brief from other cities and considered it a suitable opportunity to get the council’s message out in the time available without spending an estimated $5,000 to $6,000 in lawyers’ fees to prepare the city’s own brief. Friday was the deadline to file.
Houston said the city was focused on the content of the brief.
“Had there been extremist content in the brief, that would have been a problem,” he said.
The Trump administration lawsuit contends the state laws obstruct federal immigration law and thus violate the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which gives federal law precedence.
Fountain Valley council members initially voted 3-1 on Tuesday to file a brief backing the lawsuit after U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), who was at the meeting, offered to foot the bill.
The city later decided to join the IRLI brief, which the group offered at no cost.
Councilwoman Cheryl Brothers, who voted against filing a brief, said Friday that she was unfamiliar with IRLI and had no thoughts about the hate allegations.
She said she is still against Fountain Valley taking a stance, which she called “purely symbolic.”
The IRLI brief argues that California’s sanctuary laws compel local governments and private businesses to illegally harbor undocumented immigrants while unconstitutionally curtailing their free-speech right to contact or work with federal immigration authorities. The policies place cities and officials “in the middle of this state-federal battle over immigration policy,” the brief states.
“AB 450 and SB 54 put municipalities in an untenable position between the demands of state law and federal law,” the brief reads. “The requested injunction is needed to protect Californians from their own state government.”
Lonergan provided a link to a Breitbart article listing Fountain Valley, Yorba Linda, Mission Viejo, Aliso Viejo, Escondido, Barstow and Hesperia among the signatories on the brief, along with Rohrabacher and elected officials from West Covina, San Marcos and San Dimas.
IRLI filed a similar brief Friday on behalf of the National Sheriff’s Assn., Advocates for Victims of Illegal Alien Crime and Fight Sanctuary State.