Orange County supervisors voted Tuesday to join U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' lawsuit challenging California's so-called sanctuary state legislation prohibiting law enforcement from fully cooperating with federal immigration-enforcement authorities.
The California Values Act prohibits local law enforcement officials throughout the state from asking about immigration status. It also bars local authorities from holding undocumented immigrants in jails until federal authorities can pick them up.
State officials say the law does not stop sheriff's deputies from giving immigration authorities access to jails to interview inmates. Also, local law enforcement officials may cooperate with the deportation of state convicts in prison or inmates in local jails being held for a list of serious offenses.
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel originally proposed a resolution condemning the state law, which she called "totally unconstitutional." The board on Tuesday also approved that resolution.
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Steel's introduction of the resolution prompted Supervisor Shawn Nelson to propose joining Sessions' lawsuit. Nelson has long criticized resolutions as being relatively toothless and often not having anything to do with county business.
President Donald Trump cheered the move Wednesday, tweeting: "My Administration stands in solidarity with the brave citizens in Orange County defending their rights against California's illegal and unconstitutional Sanctuary policies. California's Sanctuary laws ... release known dangerous criminals into communities across the State. All citizens have the right to be protected by Federal law and strong borders."
The county's action came on the heels of the Los Alamitos City Council's preliminary vote to "exempt" that city from the state law. The city's action drew a rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union, which has pledged to sue the city if it gives final approval to its ordinance.
Several residents spoke in support of the county opposing the state law, but multiple others called Sessions' lawsuit "racist" and "divisive."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, implored the county to oppose the state law.
"By making us a sanctuary city and state, we're doing nothing more than attracting millions more people to come to this country and to consume the very wealth that is necessary for our quality of life,'' Rohrabacher said. He added "this flow of illegals'' has "brought down our quality of education," as well as healthcare and housing.
"Millions of people come here to get their benefits," Rohrabacher said. "If we don't act rationally, we are hurting everybody."
Rohrabacher claimed the country spends $23 billion annually "to handle illegal immigrant benefits."
Supervisor Todd Spitzer said it was an issue of law enforcement safety. He recalled his years as a police officer attempting to arrest suspects.
"Those are very, very scary moments," Spitzer said. "It is much safer to be able to transfer the custody of somebody who is already in custody."
When some in the audience jeered him, Spitzer said, "You can boo me all you want, but you haven't worked the streets the way I have. ... This allows the appropriate handing off of someone appropriately in custody.''
Nelson said he is concerned the state law makes it harder for local law enforcement to work with federal authorities.
Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens announced Monday that her department will now publicly release information about the release of undocumented immigrants from the county's jails. Hutchens opposed the state law because she felt it would hinder her department's cooperation with federal authorities.
A spokesman for the governor's office said it was unlikely Gov. Jerry Brown would react to the move.
But Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, slammed the move.
"The county that gave us Prop. 187 more than two decades ago is at it again with another unconstitutional attack on our immigrant communities,'' De Leon said. "I am confident the courts will reject this challenge to SB 54, just as they roundly rejected Prop. 187."
Proposition 187 was a 1994 ballot initiative approved by voters that sought to end state services like healthcare and public education for those in the state illegally.
De Leon added, "This kind of obsessive immigrant bashing is embarrassing to the county and its residents, and seems designed to court the approval of a racist president and his cronies."
De Leon said the "efforts to portray hardworking immigrants as criminals are a repulsive, black stain on California's history."
Nelson decried arguments that the county's move was racist or bigoted.
"We've gotten to a point of an entitlement attitude -- if you disagree you're a bad person, you're morally bankrupt if you don't see the world the same way I do,'' Nelson said. "I'm not a racist."
Nelson said the proper way to address the issue is to take it to the courts. And the state's law sends mixed messages to law enforcement, he argued.
"They shouldn't be conflicted," Nelson said of police. "If talking to another law enforcement agency puts them at risk of violating the law, that's just not right."
The vote drew praise from Justice Department spokesman Devin O'Malley.
"The Justice Department welcomes Orange County's decision to support our lawsuit against California's so-called 'sanctuary state' policies," O'Malley said in a statement.
"Orange County's residents have experienced firsthand the negative effects of SB 54, which mandates releasing criminal aliens back into their communities instead of into the custody of federal immigration authorities."