Council says no to sanctuary status

Supporters back federal policies while critics question the need for a local stance

Council says no to sanctuary statusCouncilman Wallace Martin and Mayor Peggy Breeden during the discussion of Sanctuary City status. — Photo by Laura Austin

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By BRIAN COSNER

News Review Staff Writer

The Ridgecrest City Council voted Wednesday to oppose California’s “sanctuary state” efforts to protect undocumented immigrants. While Ridgecrest will not be joining the federal lawsuit, the city intends to support the opposition by approving an amicus brief filed by the Immigration Reform Law Institute.

An amicus brief is a largely symbolic demonstration to indicate that a jurisdiction is a “friend of the court,” without being party to a lawsuit.

Several members of the council said that they were torn about the decision and that they sympathized with the many undocumented immigrants who are here to just work and support their families. But some also took issue with language, specifically in Assembly Bill 450, which requires employers to defy the federal government in regard to reporting whether or not their employees are legal immigrants.

A passionate discussion ensued with members of the public. Supporters of the federal government’s stance cited the importance of upholding our Constitution and enforcing our current laws. Supporters of the state criticized the council’s resolution for being socially regressive based on a fear of minorities.

“So which law do I follow?” asked Mayor Peggy Breeden. “Which jail do I choose to go to, state or federal?”

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Mower said he has to oppose the state’s stance because it puts him “in an awkward position as an employer.

“That’s not being bigoted,” he said. That’s being truthful and factual.”

But Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said the that laws “currently don’t affect us here from a law-enforcement standpoint,” and that joining the amicus brief would have little impact locally.

This prompted several members of the public to question the purpose of taking a stand on such a divisive, partisan issue.

“If you continue to target people by their skin color, this divides our nation,” said Jenna Dubytskyi. “The police can already report people to [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Why seek them out? That’s the federal government’s job.”

“You are a small, local council for a small town. I elected you ... to deal with local issues,” said Barbara Bane. “We have people who are better equipped to deal with this at different levels — that’s Vince Fong, Jean Fuller and Kevin McCarthy.” She added that the council should be focusing on our city’s streets, cleanliness, water availability and ability to retain base employees.

“I want this town to be attractive so we can attract young people here,” she said. “What are we doing to solve that problem? This is a divisive distraction. I don’t want you to deal with this issue — let Vince Fong and Kevin McCarthy deal with this.”

“I would hope and expect you to keep partisanship out of this agenda,” said Justin Shatto. “You are wasting our time and you are wasting your time for a symbolic, partisan gesture.”

Another member of the public, Peter Marvin, said that the legislation does not prevent local law enforcement from reporting to ICE, it just doesn’t make it mandatory.

“What they are not allowed to do is detain someone only for the suspicion of being undocumented,” he said. “This has nothing to do with Ridgecrest. We should pay attention to matters at hand and not put us in the middle of a partisan and quite frankly pointless discussion.”

“I urge you to put this aside and allow the state and federal government to deal with this divisive issue,” said Reese Hogg.

“I understand your concerns about your businesses and abiding by the rule of law. They’re valid concerns, but they’re concerns rooted in fear.”

“Let’s keep the national politics out of here,” said Mike Morrow. “To weigh in on this issue that is so divisive ... it will be handled at the court level. Let’s not take our time on those issues. Let’s focus our efforts on things the city council can really control.

“I’d like to ask why are we doing this? Is it to get [Councilmember] Wallace Martin a mention on Fox News?” asked Scott Leahy. “What is this gaining us, my friends on the city council? This does nothing.

“I also find it ridiculous that a guy on our city council doesn’t live in our city and is arguing about borders for Mexicans coming over here,” he added.

“It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

Leahy was referring to accusations that Martin lives outside of city limits. The topic has been brought up ever since Martin’s run for council and Martin has clarified numerous times that he owns residences both within and outside the city limits.

Martin responded to Leahy’s comments with his reasoning for pushing back on the state’s “perpetual and ongoing onslaught against our heritage, our culture, our values and our United States Constitution.

“This particular year we have seen attacks on our national monuments. We’ve seen an outright attack on ‘In God We Trust,’ our national [motto]. We have recently decimated our national Boy Scouts, a proud institution for over a hundred years. Now we’re advocating for illegal aliens to be able to serve on governmental boards. Now we understand that we have a very sophisticated, multistaged plan in an attempt to get rid of our Bible.”

“Who is attacking your Bible, Mr. Martin?” shouted a member of the public amidst laughter from the audience.

Martin’s comments about getting rid of the Bible presumably refer to a proposed Assembly bill to outlaw the advertising and sales of sexual-orientation conversion therapies – a bill that some have misrepresented as an attack on the Bible.

Tensions seemed to come to a head when Leahy and member of the public Ron Porter began a loud disagreement in the audience as Martin tried to continue with his points. As members of the audience and on council competed to be heard, the mayor was forced to bring the chambers into order.

While some seemed frustrated with Martin, others applauded his efforts, saying that Ridgecrest should push back against state overreach.

Member of the public Tom Wicknich said that sanctuary city laws actually created more of a threat to undocumented immigrants by forcing ICE out into the communities rather than having them comply with local law enforcement.

“These laws mean that ICE is no longer in the jails picking up criminals, they are not in the courtrooms picking up the criminals. ICE has to go out into the community looking for these criminals, and while they’re doing that, they run into other people who are in the country illegally.

“If you want to have a nation, you by definition have borders,” said Mike Neel. “Without borders it’s just land that anybody can float through and do whatever they want. We have a nation that’s been here for quite a while that has borders. The party responsible for protecting the nation, i.e. the borders, is the federal government.”

Neel said the state has no right to attempt “aggregating” immigration policy and that the city should exercise its right to stand up against the state.

“To go against this is something every city in the state absolutely has a right to do,” he said. “Taking your stand is perfectly fine. If you believe there’s a problem with the state of California ... then do so. It’s that simple.”

“I love this city,” said Greg Boske. “It kind of looks like the state of California has put the citizens in a pickle.

“We are a country of laws and borders. When you break the law, you get prosecuted. You’re not supposed to be in my country, our country, without the proper identification.”

“I think we need to support this,” said Forest Lloyd. “I have empathy for the businesspeople, and I probably have the most empathy for the law-enforcement people. The question to follow federal law or follow state law – that’s a horrible position to be in.”

Even before the discussion took place, City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen said that Ridgecrest missed the April 6 date to join any active amicus briefs. But the resolution meant Ridgecrest would be ready to join any future briefs if tensions between the federal and state authorities continue to heat up in the future.

“It disturbs me that it’s too late to do anything and we’ve spent [two hours] talking about something that’s irrelevant,” said Mower. “This has nothing to do with any race, it has to do with keeping people out of the back door. But I’m not sure we’re going to accomplish anything by passing this.”

But Mower ultimately voted in favor of the resolution because of his concern about being out of compliance with federal law.

Vice Mayor Eddie Thomas was the only member of the council not to support the resolution.

“This law... what bothers me about it is the way it’s being administered. Not necessarily here, but in other places. I view this as an opportunity for someone who has an agenda to further that process.”

Thomas, an African American, shared his experiences of profiling and being targeted by law enforcement.

“When I walk into a barbershop and they say, ‘We don’t cut your type of hair,’ that bothers me in Ridgecrest,” he said. “I know most of us have never been on that side, and I don’t want you to be on that side. But I can tell you, it doesn’t feel good.”

“A lot of us have gotten too deep into the issue,” said Councilmem-ber Lindsey Stephens. “This is not about us making a decision to have police go out and start pulling people over for their color, this is simply about keeping California in check.

“California is putting us at risk of losing significant amounts of federal funding. If there’s a disaster here, who do we turn to? Would we turn to the state of California? No, we would turn to the federal government.”

“I thought the casino was one heck of a decision,” said Mayor Breeden. “This is 50 times worse than that. What it comes down to is, do we accomplish anything by doing this?”

But while she sympathized with Thomas’s concerns, she also voted to approve the resolution.

Story First Published: 2018-05-18