Small city of Los Alamitos votes to opt out of California's sanctuary law, and its mayor says more will follow

Key Points
  • The small city of Los Alamitos votes to exempt itself from California's so-called "sanctuary state" law, which took effect in January.
  • One critic of the opt-out move says the Southern California city will find itself "on the wrong side of history."
  • Los Alamitos' mayor says at least 13 other cities in the state are considering similar opt-out measures.
  • The city also plans to file an amicus brief in support of the Trump administration's sanctuary lawsuit against California.
Public comment period in the Los Alamitos City Council on Monday before they voted 4-1 to opt out of the California “sanctuary law.”
Source: KNBC

A new threat to California's "sanctuary state" law is coming from municipalities that are fighting the controversial legislation.

On Monday evening, the city council in Los Alamitos, a small city in Southern California, voted 4 to 1 to exempt itself from Senate Bill 54, also sometimes called the the "sanctuary state" law, which took effect in January. The state law, which is being challenged by the U.S. Department of Justice, bars local authorities from asking about the immigration status of people during routine interactions or participating in federal enforcement actions.

"This is important for us, for our city, for our community," Warren Kusumoto, the mayor pro tempore of Los Alamitos said Monday before the vote. He said the local measure was needed because of "a conflict between two governing documents — the Constitution of the United States and the state constitution itself."

Added Kusumoto, "We have a military base over here, we have contractors here who do business with the federal government. And I just feel that this body owes them some kind of certainty and guidance in enacting this ordinance. It really is for us to say we believe in the Constitution."

"The Los Alamitos City Council and Councilman Kusumoto in particular, are egregiously misinterpreting the U.S. Constitution and are on the wrong side of history," California Assembly member Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat who represents parts of Los Angeles, said in a statement. "Los Alamitos has an opportunity to protect its residents, but is instead siding with a racist and xenophobic Trump administration hell-bent on instilling fear in immigrants across the nation."

Los Alamitos, a city of about 12,000 people in Orange County, now finds itself in the spotlight with its challenge to California's sanctuary movement.

"I've gotten a lot of calls from other city council members and other mayors that are interested in being part of this," Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said Tuesday. "They really want to know what was the process and are trying to get advice on how to go to the next steps."

A second vote is required for the measure to take effect, and that vote is expected April 16.

According to the mayor, at least 13 other municipalities in the state are considering similar opt-out measures on the sanctuary law. He wouldn't identify the cities but said they are located in the high deserts of Southern California as well as Orange and San Diego counties, all the way up to Northern California's Shasta County.

"It's great to see cities in California fighting back against the illegal sanctuary state and lawlessness of the California Democrats," said Assemblyman Travis Allen, a Republican candidate for governor whose Assembly district includes Los Alamitos.

However, immigration lawyer and University of Southern California law professor Jean Reisz said Los Alamitos' decision to opt out of SB 54, or the California Values Act, shouldn't legally support the federal government's overall position.

"Whether or not Los Alamitos opted out, that's not evidence that these laws are in violation of federal law," said Reisz. "It's just showing the city isn't in support of it or doesn't want to follow it." She also believes California's SB 54 and two other statutes that are part of the federal government's legal challenge against the state "don't violate federal law."

Meantime, the Los Alamitos mayor said he has not personally heard from state officials since passing the opt-out ordinance. "I would expect that they are definitely considering what their options are," he said.

In addition to passing the ordinance, the mayor said the city plans to file an amicus brief in support of the Trump administration's "sanctuary law" case against California. The U.S. Justice Department declined to comment.

The Trump administration's suit against California, filed March 6, contends that three different state laws passed last year to protect undocumented immigrants against deportation violate the U.S. Constitution.

The state's attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said at a press conference after the lawsuit was filed that California has the right under the U.S. Constitution "to decline to participate in civil immigration enforcement. California is in the business of public safety. We're not in the business of deportations."

Becerra's office said Tuesday, "We will continue to defend attacks against the Values Act."

The office of Gov. Jerry Brown declined to comment for this story.

In November, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed more than 50 percent of Californians supported the "sanctuary state" law.