The looming storm of mass civil disobedience, if not civil war, comes to Fresno City Hall on Thursday.
That’s when the City Council will debate the merits of Steve Brandau’s proposed resolution opposing “sanctuary state” status for California.
President Donald Trump and cherished – though conflicting – American principles are at the heart of the issue.
“The city of Fresno relies heavily on federal funding for all kinds of different stuff,” Brandau told me on Monday. “If they (state leaders) pick a fight with the President, the citizens of Fresno might be the losers of that battle. I don’t want that to happen. As a representative, I need to make sure that my voice is heard.”
Council Member Brandau, who serves District 2 in Northwest Fresno, is pitching a simple response to the federal-state duel.
There’s a piece of legislation working its way through the California legislature – Senate Bill 54.
The bill would substantially change the working relationship between the federal government and state/local jurisdictions when it comes to enforcement of federal immigration law. Brandau said SB 54 would turn California and everything lower in the governmental pecking order (including charter cities like Fresno) into one big sanctuary state.
“Sanctuary” as a political adjective can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. But it’s safe to say “sanctuary” in this context means defiance to federal authority.
SB 54 was introduced by Kevin de León, the Senate President Pro Tem. De León is a Los Angeles Democrat. California for all intents and purposes is a one party state. That party is the Democratic Party.
Trump is a Republican. His victory over Hillary Clinton in November shocked both Democrats and media pundits. The losing side’s anger knows no bounds.
The Trump policy when it comes to immigration – especially illegal immigration – is well known. It’s sufficient to note that Brandau is concerned that the President will threaten to do to California as a sanctuary state what he has already vowed to do to sanctuary cities – cut federal funding.
(This isn’t an unusual threat. The feds for decades have threatened to withhold funding to schools that don’t comply with all federal interpretations of Title IX. Schools almost without exception hustle to comply.)
The introduction to Brandau’s resolution is brief:
“Whereas, the California Legislature is considering Senate Bill 54, the ‘California Values Act,’ which would designate California a ‘sanctuary state’ for purposes of state and local public officials being restricted from cooperating with federal immigration authorities; and
“Whereas, by taking such an action, the state jeopardizes state and local authorities’ receipt of federal funds; and
“Whereas, the City of Fresno currently receives approximately $127 million per year in federal funding; and
“Whereas, the loss of federal funding would be a disaster for the City, and would impair funding for important functions and projects such as roads, public transportation, public safety, and housing….”
Brandau wants the City of Fresno to officially make just point to Sacramento: “Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Council of the City of Fresno as follows: 1. The Council opposes Senate Bill 54 for the reasons set forth above.”
Trump when he spoke at Selland Arena last May said he wants immigrants to come to America – but he wants them to come legally.
Trump supports the American principle of the rule of law, including immigration law, as the binding agent of social order.
The sanctuary city/state movement places its emphasis on another American principle – this nation as a welcoming land of opportunity for the entire world, regardless of the law.
Something’s got to give. Whether one side yields in a fashion less dramatic than, say, the South’s response to Civil Rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s remains to be seen.
Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson (not to mention Lincoln) came down squarely on the precedence of federal authority in areas of federal domain. Brandau thinks Trump will be equally protective of federal authority if challenged by the highest ranks of California’s elected officials.
“I was in a meeting several weeks ago with Kevin McCarthy,” Brandau said, referring to the House Majority Leader hailing from Bakersfield. “He expressed to those of us in the meeting that he’s been in the room with President Trump, and he’s not the guy to be thumped in the chest. So this (SB 54) seems like a chest-thumping. This is a political chest-thumping from the state of California.
“I’m not going to speak on behalf of the President. I’m saying, ‘Why pick a fight where the citizens of Fresno could be put in jeopardy?’”
Let’s take a look at SB 54.
The draft of SB 54 that I found online runs to four pages of small type, single-spaced. The Legislative Counsel’s digest of the bill begins:
“Existing law provides that when there is reason to believe that a person arrested for a violation of specified controlled substance provisions may not be a citizen of the United States, the arresting agency shall notify the appropriate agency of the United States having charge of deportation matters.
“This bill would repeal those provisions.”
The Legislative Counsel’s digest also states:
“This bill would, among other things, prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies, including school police and security departments, from using resources to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes, as specified.
“The bill would require, within 3 months after the effective date of the bill, the Attorney General, in consultation with the appropriate stakeholders, to publish model policies limiting assistance with immigration enforcement to the fullest extent possible for use by those entities for those purposes.
“The bill would require all public schools, health facilities operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state, and courthouses to implement the model policy, or an equivalent policy.
“The bill would state that all other organizations and entities that provide services related to physical or mental health and wellness, education, or access to justice, including the University of California, are encouraged to adopt the model policy.
“The bill would require a law enforcement agency that chooses to participate in a joint law enforcement task force, as defined, to submit a report every 6 months to the Department of Justice, as specified.
“The bill would require the Attorney General, within 14 months after the effective date of the bill, and twice a year thereafter, to report on the types and frequency of joint law enforcement task forces, and other information, as specified, and to post those reports on the Attorney General’s Internet Web site.”
In conclusion, the Legislative Counsel’s digest states: “This bill would declare that it is to take effect immediately as an urgency statute.”
I sent a text message to Jerry Dyer on Monday, asking the Police Chief about his thoughts on SB 54. His text reply:
“Currently, local law enforcement agencies have the discretion to partner with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or HSI (Homeland Security Investigations), and do so through targeted operations to apprehend identified criminals. For example, ICE may request tactical support from a local police department during an operation to arrest members of a gang or drug cartel for civil or criminal immigration violations.
“Additionally, local law enforcement also engages in federal joint task forces with various federal law enforcement agencies, including ICE and HSI. These task forces all focus on crime and national security; however, immigration enforcement often plays a role in carrying out those missions. For instance, if during a joint investigation into a drug trafficking operation, HSI or ICE identifies one of the suspects as an individual with an immigration violation, the task force may use that violation to apprehend that suspect.
“Senate Bill 54 hinders these efforts by creating roadblocks and ambiguities when it comes to local law enforcement’s ability to participate in operations with federal agencies.
“SB 54 will definitely make it much more difficult to apprehend undocumented dangerous criminals, resulting in negative consequences that threaten the safety of our communities.
“This bill was not well thought out. I have no doubt this bill would have the unintended consequence of protecting dangerous criminals, and create more fear in our communities by forcing federal immigration operations out of our jails and into our communities.”
Mayor Lee Brand said he has read the latest draft of SB 54.
“I don’t agree with it,” Brand told me Monday evening by phone.
The Mayor said SB 54 would make it harder for law enforcement to protect Fresno from “drug cartels, gang-bangers and murderers.”
District 6 Council Member Garry Bredefeld in an email to me on Monday wrote that he opposes SB 54.
“SB 54 would significantly limit the ability of our local law enforcement officers and agencies to communicate with other (federal) law enforcement agencies,” Bredefeld wrote. “ This will clearly and dramatically make our city and other communities more unsafe.
“It will potentially result in loss of millions of dollars in federal funding which is often used to fight violent crime and drug trafficking. We are a nation of laws. We cannot and should not selectively enforce laws by creating sanctuary cities and now potentially make California a ‘sanctuary state.’”
This issue is full of politics and complexity. For example, City Hall’s budget also gets help from Sacramento. If Brandau’s resolution is approved, does Gov. Jerry Brown use the money spigot to threaten and intimidate Fresno?
Fresno officials probably feel like Belgium in August 1914.
Should his resolution be approved, Brandau said, “I’d hate to fathom what our friends in Sacramento would be willing to do. I don’t know how charged up they are about this. I know there are some who would like to penalize us if we passed this resolution. We’re the fifth largest city in the state, but we’re also a very needy city. They know we have special needs. I would hate to see them turn their guns on one of their own cities. But it wouldn’t surprise me.”
There’s always the possibility that Trump will blink. California could become a sanctuary state, veto all federal legislation it doesn’t like, continue to avidly pursue the Calexit option, and Trump does nothing more than grumble while keeping the federal dollars flowing this way.
“We don’t know,” Brandau said. “It would be a big gamble. I’m not the guy that wants to gamble on this.”