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Orange County, other SoCal officials meet with Trump on anti-sanctuary efforts. It may not play well with voters long-term

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with California leaders and public officials who oppose California's sanctuary policies in the Cabinet Room of the White House May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with California leaders and public officials who oppose California's sanctuary policies in the Cabinet Room of the White House May 16, 2018 in Washington, DC.
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A group of California political leaders, mostly from local cities and counties and largely Republican, met with President Trump and other federal officials Wednesday in a show of solidarity against the state's new sanctuary law. 

The guest list included House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) and California Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez (R-Murrieta), along with 14 officials from various cities and counties, including Orange and San Diego.

Many of the officials represent cities that have passed ordinances or resolutions opposing S.B. 54, known as the California Values Act. Other jurisdictions have joined Trump administration's lawsuit against California after it implemented the new law, which restricts local agencies' cooperation with federal immigration agents. The law took effect in January.

Here's a quick rundown of the gathering and its possible political ramifications:

Why did Trump meet with officials from California, and what happened?

The White House billed the meeting in a news release as one to "discuss shared efforts to end the nullification of federal law and restore community safety.” 

Trump has openly criticized California for its resistance to his increasingly stringent immigration policies, including sweeps to detain unauthorized immigrants in local communities.

In March, the administration filed suit against California over three “sanctuary” laws, including S.B. 54, saying the measures interfere with federal officials' enforcement of immigration laws.

Los Alamitos Mayor Troy Edgar, whose city approved an anti-sanctuary ordinance, said he received the invitation from the White House last week. Edgar said he was advised that "the president was interested in putting together a panel of people to talk through sanctuary and immigration law." 

Trump attended the meeting along with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, immigration policy advisor Stephen Miller, officials from the U.S. Department Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and others. Those participating took turns speaking about their sanctuary-related concerns, such as being caught between federal and state immigration policies.

"Anyone with common sense knows that this California Values Act was put in place to protect those who are here breaking the law," said Los Alamitos Mayor Pro Tem Warren Kusumoto, who traveled to the White House along with Edgar. "The message that I got from this whole experience is that the citizens of our state and our city feel like they have less rights than the entitled illegal aliens."

Trump thanked Kusumoto, saying, "You did a great job."

Trump talked about deporting gang members and immigrants who have committed crimes, at one point saying, "You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals."

Edgar said the meeting with Trump was not a public relations move by the administration, but a working meeting. 

"He really wants California to step up and to help out in this process," Edgar said. "And help out means ... at the local level, to increase our partnership. And I think that is the part we have a hard time in fulfilling that commitment to the federal government, because S.B. 54 has made it illegal to do that."

Where do we stand with sanctuary opposition?

Los Alamitos, which is a charter city, was the first Southern California city to approve an ordinance opposing S.B. 54. A handful of Northern California jurisdictions had previously passed resolutions in the same vein.

Several other Orange County cities have joined the anti-sanctuary efforts, including Huntington Beach, Yorba Linda, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Niguel, and San Juan Capistrano. Santa Clarita recently became the first Los Angeles County to adopt an anti-sanctuary measure.

Most of these cities have passed resolutions, which are mostly symbolic. Charter cities, like Los Alamitos, have more leeway in creating their own municipal laws than general-law cities do.

Other jurisdictions, including Orange County, have voted to join the federal government's lawsuit against California. Some municipalities have thrown in their support as friends of the court after an anti-immigration activist group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, sent out a letter seeking cities interested in joining an amicus brief, and offering to represent them pro-bono.

Los Alamitos has since been sued by the ACLU for adopting its anti-sanctuary ordinance. Edgar told KPCC that on Tuesday he consulted with Sessions about the possibility of the government providing financial assistance to Los Alamitos for its legal defense. 

How might this play in this year’s elections in California?

According to one Republican strategist, the anti-sanctuary stand taken by local officials might play well in certain conservative districts like parts of Orange County, Fresno and the Inland Empire, but not statewide.

"The Republican Party has largely become an isolated regional party in the state, in large part due to embracing these types of issues and really driving the emerging new electorate, particularly Latinos, away from the Republican Party and the Republican brand," said Mike Madrid, a GOP strategist based in Sacramento. 

During the Tuesday meeting, Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steele said she had received many emails about the county's decision to oppose the sanctuary law and described them as "mostly positive."

Madrid said while the sanctuary controversy does play well as part of the conservative ideology, it may come at a cost to the party. 

"In their own districts, it certainly is probably a good political move, but when you are working to protect fewer and fewer districts to the detriment of expanding your base, and expanding your message, and expanding your numbers, basic logic would tell you these are probably not the best issues to champion." 

Correction: A previous version of this story reported the meeting between Trump and local officials from California occurred on Tuesday. It happened on Wednesday. KPCC regrets the error.