The Los Alamitos city council voted 4-1 Monday night to move towards exempting the city from SB 54, the so-called state sanctuary law that restricts police cooperation with immigration agents.
Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar said the move has prompted a flurry of calls from other cities, indicating they may want to follow suit. He said he's heard from at least 15 cities around the state, from the Southern California high desert to as far north as Shasta County.
"It's been a busy time since we passed [the ordinance] last night," said Edgar, who would not name the cities he's heard from. "I think a lot of cities were waiting to see what happened."
A final vote is expected next month on the ordinance, which aims to let Los Alamitos opt out of SB 54. The new state law, which took effect in January, bars local police from turning most immigrants over to immigration agents, unless they've been convicted of certain serious criminal offenses.
Edgar said that because Los Alamitos is a charter city, it has the right to enact its own rules when it comes to how the city deals with immigration agents.
"We feel strongly … that if we wanted to instruct our police force to deal directly with ICE and assist in federal activities, that that would be what we feel our police should do," Edgar said.
The ACLU of Southern California said in a statement that if given final approval by Los Alamitos officials, the ordinance would violate "the city’s obligation to follow state law."
In an email to KPCC, ACLU staff attorney Sameer Ahmed said "you can expect a lawsuit from the ACLU of Southern California" if the ordinance is enacted.
SB 54 itself is already in the courts. The Trump administration recently sued California, claiming that SB 54 and two other new state laws are unconstitutional because they keep the federal government from enforcing immigration laws.
Critics of the federal lawsuit argue the opposite is true.
"SB 54 is designed to leave it to the federal government to deal with immigration enforcement, and keep the state as far out of it as possible," said Kevin Johnson, dean of the UC Davis law school.
But John Eastman, a UC Chapman law professor who supports the federal lawsuit, believes the city's legal arguments are solid.
"Under the California state constitution, charter cities get to set policy for their own municipal affairs," he said. "Their second argument, of course, is that what California has done, more broadly, is a violation of federal law, and they are not obligated to go along with violations of federal law."
Edgar said Los Alamitos is the first California city to introduce a law that goes against SB 54. Other jurisdictions have adopted resolutions that take a similar stance, including the Shasta County city of Anderson last year. The Shasta County Board of Supervisors approved a "no sanctuary" resolution last month.
One Orange County supervisor, Michelle Steele, cheered the Los Alamitos ordinance Tuesday: "Orange County should follow federal law and fully cooperate with immigration enforcement to identify and arrest dangerous illegal immigrants," she said in a statement.
Late last year, Orange County ended its participation in a federal-local immigration enforcement partnership known as 287(g) because it conflicted with SB 54. The program allowed Orange County Sheriff's deputies to screen jail inmates for their immigration status and notify federal authorities.