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State not backing down after Huntington Beach wins in court challenge to ‘sanctuary’ immigration law

Supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 54, or the California Sanctuary State Bill, hold up signs as
Supporters and opponents of Senate Bill 54, a California “sanctuary state” law, hold up signs as U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa) speaks during a Newport Beach City Council meeting April 10. Newport is one of several Orange County cities that have opposed the law.
(File Photo)

Despite an Orange County judge’s ruling siding with Huntington Beach’s claim that a California “sanctuary state” law expanding protections for undocumented immigrants is unconstitutional as it applies to charter cities, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Friday that the state will continue to uphold its laws.

“Preserving the safety and constitutional rights of all our people is a statewide imperative which cannot be undermined by contrary local rules,” Becerra said in a statement. “We will continue working to ensure that our values and laws like the California Values Act are upheld throughout our state.”

Jennifer Molina, press secretary for the attorney general’s office, declined to comment on the likelihood of an appeal.

Huntington Beach on Thursday became the first city to successfully challenge the California Values Act, also known as Senate Bill 54, after Orange County Superior Court Judge James Crandall affirmed Huntington’s argument that the law violates its local control as a charter city — one run by a charter adopted by local voters.

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Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates said the ruling makes Huntington and the rest of California’s 121 charter cities exempt from SB 54, authored by state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles). The law in many cases prohibits state and local police agencies from notifying federal officials about the impending release of immigrants in custody who may be deported.

“This [ruling] is a significant victory for the rule of law, the [California] Constitution, the city’s charter authority and other charter cities,” Gates said in a statement Friday. “We will continue to hold Sacramento accountable for unconstitutional state law overreaches. The city of Huntington Beach will not allow Sacramento to violate its constitutionally protected rights.”

The Huntington Beach Police Department issued a news release Friday afternoon stating that the department “has, and will continue, to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on matters concerning public safety within the parameters of the law. … There are times when it is appropriate for us as a law enforcement agency to communicate with ICE, a fellow law enforcement agency, to enhance public safety. It is our goal to maintain discretion and have the option to communicate with other law enforcement agencies, and SB 54 limited that discretion.”

“But,” the statement added, “our focus will continue to be overall public safety.”

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The release echoed Police Chief Robert Handy’s comment Thursday that community members should rely on trust already built between officers and residents.

Huntington Beach joined a wave of Orange County opposition to SB 54 that started in March when the City Council in Los Alamitos — another charter city — passed an ordinance to opt out of the law. Since then, the Orange County Board of Supervisors has voted to join a federal lawsuit against the measure, the Costa Mesa City Council adopted a resolution opposing the law and the city of Fountain Valley signed on to a law group’s brief supporting the federal case.

The Newport Beach City Council also passed a resolution opposing SB 54 and authorized filing a legal brief supporting the federal lawsuit.

Newport, which also is a charter city, hasn’t yet filed such a brief, though City Attorney Aaron Harp said Friday that it still intends to.

Orange County’s other charter cities are Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, Irvine, Santa Ana and Seal Beach, according to the League of California Cities.

Crandall said Thursday that “the operation of a police department and its jail is a city affair. For the state to say one size fits all for policing isn’t going to fit everybody.”

California Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Eisenberg contended that municipalities can exercise other forms of autonomy and criticized Huntington Beach’s “alleged sweeping effects of this law.” Eisenberg also argued there is an “important need” for a “uniform” public safety law.

In July, Eisenberg filed a motion seeking to delay action on the Huntington Beach lawsuit, but Crandall denied it.

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U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), whose 48th Congressional District includes Huntington Beach and parts of Fountain Valley, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, issued a statement Friday commending Huntington Beach for its victory.

“This court case was a huge setback for supporters of sanctuary policies,” said Rohrabacher, who urged various city governments to challenge the mandate. “This law was forced down the throats of Californians and dramatically undermined their safety and security. If cities and counties want to cooperate with ICE or other federal law enforcement, they have a right to do so, and I support the judge’s decision.”

Staff writer Hillary Davis contributed to this report.

Priscella.Vega@latimes.com

Twitter: @vegapriscella


UPDATES:

5:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the statement from the Huntington Beach Police Department.

This article was originally published at 2:10 p.m.

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