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Alhambra City Council Denies Sanctuary City Resolution

Alhambra High School students traced their immigration journeys during the official opening of the Dream Center, which supports immigrant students, in late March. On Monday, the Alhambra City Council opted to make a statement in their meeting minutes supporting state law that limits cooperation with immigration enforcement operations. Photo by Dominic Tovar.


Alhambra , CA United States

The Alhambra City Council unanimously voted Monday night against a student written resolution that would have declared Alhambra a “sanctuary city” that would protect individuals from discrimination and immigration enforcement.

Councilmember David Mejia made the motion to kill the resolution, saying that the Alhambra Police Department already has a policy in place to protect immigrants and that Alhambra is a city that accepts everybody. Earlier in the evening, Police Chief Timothy Vu had outlined the policy, which ensured that no police resources are dedicated to immigration enforcement, and that the department doesn’t investigate immigration violations. Vu said this policy was put in place after California’s sanctuary state law SB 54 — also known as the California Values Act — went into effect in 2018, and limits the state and local resources that can be used in assisting federal immigration enforcement.

“I commend you for writing [this resolution], but we already stated that our department has a policy,” Mejia said. “We don’t need to be like everyone else, saying, ‘We’re a sanctuary city.’ ”

Mayor Adele Andrade-Stadler put forth a motion to have the City Council and the students draft another resolution, but none of her colleagues seconded it.

Councilmember Jeff Maloney said he read the students’ resolution and found that it was very similar to SB 54. He made a motion that the City Council would declare support for SB 54 by including language in the meeting minutes, known as a “minute order,” to assert that the police policy was in line with this law and that city staff would organize an outreach plan to inform Alhambra residents of this policy.

The Council voted four to one to approve Maloney’s motion, with Mejia casting the dissenting vote. Councilmember Katherine Lee suggested translating the Alhambra Police Department policy on immigration enforcement into multiple languages, which Vu said he would look into.

The resolution would have prohibited Alhambra from using local police or other city resources to assist federal immigration authorities including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The resolution also called on the city of Alhambra to create programming educating people about the immigration and citizenship process.

The Alhambra Police Department would also have been prohibited from complying with ICE “detainer requests,” where local law enforcement holds an individual for a period of time to give ICE time to take them into custody. Vu said on April 22 that policy already prohibits the Alhambra Police Department from fulfilling detainer requests.

The resolution would have also required to notify the City of Alhambra before they detain someone within the city and Alhambra would have been required to take ICE to court if this condition was not met.

Several students read from the resolution during their presentation, while two others shared their personal immigration stories. Andrade-Stadler, Vice Mayor Ross Maza and Lee praised the students for their civic engagement at the April 22 meeting, and voted to put the resolution on the agenda. Mejia and Maloney were not present at the April 22 meeting.

Along with requesting that the resolution be added to the agenda, Andrade-Stadler also asked that City Attorney Montes review the resolution and inform the City Council on the implications of a lawsuit that the city of Huntington Beach filed against the state, saying that SB 54 conflicts with Huntington Beach’s municipal charter to enforce “all laws and statutes of the United States.”

Huntington Beach has so far prevailed with this lawsuit, which is in the appeal stage, but Alhambra does not have the same language in its charter.

The city attorney’s analysis stated that the resolution’s policy considerations were within the City Council’s purview, but that some terms were left undefined, while other sections were not legally enforceable by the city. One undefined term included “sanctuary city” itself, and one unenforceable provision would be to compel the federal government to notify the city of any local immigration enforcement activities, since the federal government is granted “exclusive jurisdiction” over immigration matters.

Two students who drafted the resolution asked the City Council to pass the resolution, and make Alhambra’s foreign-born population, which makes up around half of the city’s residents, feel more secure. “By making Alhambra a sanctuary city, this will reduce the fear of these undocumented immigrants, and they will feel more welcome and safe to live in our city,” said Anly Tran, who recently graduated from Alhambra High School.

Several Alhambra High School teachers and residents also spoke in support of the resolution. “It’s a message to the community here, ‘We’re here and we support you,’ and that’s really powerful for half our population here,” said Javier Gutierrez, a teacher and department chair of social sciences at Alhambra High School.

Several community members spoke out in opposition to the resolution. Lucy Banuelos, who currently serves on Alhambra’s Transportation Commission, said that the resolution was unfair to immigrants who came to the United States legally and asserted it would have consequences for Alhambra like overcrowding.

Other residents also cited the police department policy as enough. “I just want to impress upon you — a vote for this resolution would be a vote of ‘no confidence’ for Chief Vu and our police department who have done an outstanding job,” said former Alhambra Mayor and current Planning Commissioner Barbara Messina.

After the vote, the students present expressed frustration, saying that they were disappointed that the City Council wouldn’t even consider working with them on the resolution, and that there differences between their resolution and SB 54 that could have been addressed.

Angel Ge, who also spoke at City Council, said the resolution was essential in making immigrants feel safe, and would raise more awareness than the police policy alone. “We’re just helping our immigrant community — protecting them from harassment, protecting them from deportation,” she said.

Maloney told the Alhambra Source that he motioned for a “minute order” so that action could be taken right away by the city in declaring support for SB 54 and Alhambra’s immigrant community.

Overall, he wanted the students to know that they did succeed. “They got us to consider and take action on something that had never been done at the City Council before,” he said.

Andrade-Stadler said that she also appreciates the police’s efforts to reach out to immigrant communities, but that the City Council working with the students on a resolution would have strengthened that commitment. “It behooves us to make sure that we make sure we respect everybody who’s in the room, everybody who’s in our city, and that the kids feel safe,” she said.

Last year, the city of San Gabriel passed a “safe city” resolution to protect its immigrant community. The San Gabriel City Council passed this resolution after terminating a contract between ICE and the San Gabriel Police Department a couple months earlier. In 2017, the Alhambra Unified School District Board of Education passed a “safe haven” resolution protecting undocumented students.

Major cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Portland, Ore. all have sanctuary city ordinances or resolutions.

In other business, the City Council unanimously approved the city’s strategic plan for fiscal year 2019 to 2020, which sets a number of goals to enhance quality of life in the city of Alhambra. Goals like adopting an affordable housing ordinance, increasing code enforcement activities and turning a former county health clinic on Shorb Street into a community center made it from Council discussions on April 18 into the plan.

Andrade-Stadler and Vice Mayor Ross Maza also suggested adding a 15th goal, to hire a public information officer, to the strategic plan.

The City Council also unanimously approved the fiscal year 2019 budget, which would take effect on July 1. As Finance Director Paul Espinoza presented during the May 28 City Council meeting, the draft budget predicts a little more than $65,000,000 in general fund revenues and a little more than $76,500,000 in expenditures. With net transfers and cost allocations and debt service transfers, the general fund is looking at a minor deficit of around $445,000 for the next fiscal year.

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