Sanctuary City Status or Not

Steve Propes

In a press event held at the police academy in early September 2015, the issue of sanctuary city status was broached to Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. At that event, Luna stated he was concerned that attitudes in largely Hispanic areas likely reflect a distrust of police.

At the time, according to Luna, Homeland Security has classified Long Beach as a sanctuary city, a status derived from whether police ask those they contact about their immigration status. Long Beach does not, as it seeks cooperation from witnesses.

Since Donald Trump assumed the presidency in January 2017, this issue of sanctuary cities has become front burner news. Though there is no consensus as to what exactly is a sanctuary city, of several websites that list sanctuary cities, at least one line resource has named Long Beach a sanctuary city. ( Most websites do not list Long Beach at all.

Those in city politics willing to speak of the issue agree that Long Beach is not a sanctuary city because the city council has not voted to declare it so.

Long Beach Second District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce’s Legislative Deputy Julia Gould opined, “Currently, Long Beach is not a sanctuary city in the sense that we have not formally declared ourselves such and do not go above and beyond what the California TRUST Act requires.” Effective since January 2014, the California TRUST Act limits immigration “hold” requests in local jails.

In that Police Chief Luna has said such a designation means that non-citizen residents will more willingly cooperate with police or report crimes if they know immigration will not be involved, Gould agreed, stating her office has heard it reiterated by many police chiefs around California. “Community trust with law enforcement is essential for vulnerable communities to report crimes and seek out help. Trust is also critical to the effectiveness of other essential government entities such as hospitals, schools and more.”

Gould also minimized President Trump’s threat to deny federal funding: “We do not believe the president has the power to restrict state or local funding, stating that is the power of Congress and not that of the executive. Even if Congress authorizes withholding federal funding, extensive US Supreme Court case law makes it unconstitutional to revoke funding from unrelated federal obligations, such as education, health and human services. The only funds that would legally be at risk would be those that are directly related to cooperation between local and federal authorities.”

In summary, Gould stated, “Local taxpayers should not have to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to do the job of the federal government, which ultimately tears families apart, disrupts our economy, and breaks community trust.”

CLUE (Clergy and Laity United For Economic Justice) organizer, Grecia Lopez-Reyes stated that she and about “twenty clergy, community members, activists, a student attorney from UCLA” and Lopez-Reyes herself met with Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia about sanctuary status on Feb. 28, 2017.

According to Lopez-Reyes, CLUE is working with UCLA law students to draft a sanctuary city ordinance for Long Beach. “Mayor Garcia told us he doesn’t want a local policy. He just wants to go with state policy. He’s supporting the California TRUST legislation because he fears losing federal funding. We asked, if we were to get the council to support a sanctuary city bill, would he sign it? He said ‘If it comes to my office, I’ll sign it.’”

According to a spokesperson for the mayor’s office, “The mayor informed CLUE that he supported the unanimous council position to support (California TRUST legislation) and that it was preferable to have a statewide standard versus a patchwork of local laws. He informed the group of his work with mayors across the state and told them that we would all continue to work together. He also shared that all cities are concerned about federal funding, but that Long Beach would continue to support the California TRUST Act.”

This is not the first time Long Beach has faced such a choice.

Former chairman of the city’s now disbanded Public Safety Advisory Commission, John Deats recalled that in the mid-1990s, the Clinton administration threatened to revoke federal funding if the city didn’t cooperate with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), now known as ICE.

The commission, which existed from 1990 to 2000 included Brian Ben from UCC (United Cambodian Community), Terry McBride from the NAACP and Dan Torres of LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens).

“We got an assignment from the council about the potential loss of federal funding. After all was said and done, we voted to cooperate with INS that Long Beach should not risk federal funding in refusing to cooperate.” The commission was later disbanded by Mayor Bob Foster.

Deats recalled that at the time, the police used an extra copy of the booking sheet to indicate why the person was suspected of being in the country illegally, a sheet which traveled with them through the trial procedure. If the person was convicted, the sheet was forwarded to the INS.


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