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Los Alamitos upholds ordinance blocking state sanctuary law

Demonstrators on both sides of the immigration debate met — as they have many times in recent weeks — to duke it out in the court of public opinion, April 16, 2017.
Demonstrators on both sides of the immigration debate met — as they have many times in recent weeks — to duke it out in the court of public opinion, April 16, 2017.
Jill Replogle

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The city council of Los Alamitos on Monday reaffirmed an earlier decision to opt out of the California Values Act, or SB 54, which limits local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The five-member council voted 4-1 to uphold its previous vote, taken in March, after listening to more than four hours of public comment on both sides of the issue. 

"I’m taking a stance on this because of my oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Councilwoman Shelley Hasselbrink said before announcing her “yes” vote. "The Constitution hasn’t changed since last time we met therefore my stance can’t." 

During the first few hours of the meeting, several hundred people demonstrated outside the tiny city council chambers, chanting in each other’s faces and taking cell phone videos of their heated encounters. Around a dozen uniformed police stood watch on the outskirts of the crowd, intervening a few times to ease tensions. 

Demonstrators came from across Southern California and from as far as Arizona and Nevada.   

After listening to more than four hours of public testimony, Los Alamitos City Council voted 4-1 in favor of adopting an ordinance exempting the city from complying with the state sanctuary law, April 16, 2017.
After listening to more than four hours of public testimony, Los Alamitos City Council voted 4-1 in favor of adopting an ordinance exempting the city from complying with the state sanctuary law, April 16, 2017.
Jill Replogle

Los Alamitos, population 12,000, was the first city in California to take a legal stance against what’s become known as the state’s sanctuary law, setting off a wave of similar actions in other cities in Orange County and elsewhere. 

But Los Alamitos is among the few cities to have passed a local law barring itself from complying with the state law. The city of Orange passed a resolution to “stay compliance” with the state law, while most other cities, including nearby Newport Beach, Westminster and Fountain Valley have voted in favor of less-weighty resolutions opposing SB 54 or legal briefs in support of the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions against the state of California. 

At least one city, Huntington Beach, voted to file its own lawsuit against California over the sanctuary issue. 

Los Alamitos Councilman Mark Chirco, a lawyer, cast the sole dissenting vote against the city’s anti-sanctuary ordinance, saying he didn’t think the city council had the legal authority to declare the state’s law unconstitutional. 

"This city council wanted to send a message to Sacramento, and I think they accomplished that,” Chirco said. "Defending this flawed ordinance could and would bankrupt our city.”

The ACLU of Southern California has already warned the city of its intent to sue. 

Catherine Driscoll, a former mayor of Los Alamitos, waited in line outside of the city council meeting to speak in favor of the anti-sanctuary ordinance. 

“If you’re not willing to take a stand for what you believe in and you’re an elected official, then you shouldn’t be in that seat,” she said. 

Pastor Sam Pullen, who helped organize opposition to the anti-sanctuary ordinance, said it would not go unchallenged.

“What they’re doing is illegal and it’ll be challenged and costly,” he said, referring to the Los Alamitos council members.  “We’re ready to stand up to them.”

Several other Orange County cities are planning to vote on anti-sanctuary measures this week.