Anaheim Leaders Criticized for Muddled Approach to Sanctuary City Issue

David P. Senner for Voice of OC

The Anaheim City Council during a recent public meeting.

Donald Trump’s unexpected election victory was just days old when public officials throughout California began reacting.

On the Monday after Election Day, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that his department wouldn’t help Trump deport immigrants. The following day, Santa Ana City Council members unequivocally declared theirs a sanctuary city.

Then, in early December on the first day of the state Legislature’s new session, state Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) announced plans for sweeping legislation to protect unauthorized immigrants.

But with less than two weeks to go before Trump’s inauguration, Anaheim, a majority Latino city with a large population of Arab Americans, has not approached the issue with the same urgency.

Late last month, the council passed a proposal by newly elected Councilman Jose Moreno to establish a broadly defined program to promote immigrant integration with no particulars about what the program would entail.

The measure calls for the creation of a citizen task force within the mayor’s office to examine whether the city should take part in a national initiative called “Welcoming America” and determine if that would include specific protections for unauthorized immigrants.

However, while Moreno’s proposal was narrowly approved, it drew criticism from people across the political spectrum.

It did not satisfy many of the residents and advocates who turned out to council meetings in the days and weeks following the election and called on the city to send a message that no city resources will be used to aid federal immigration authorities.

“I think a big, bold loud statement needs to be made to dampen the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is alive in Orange County, and Anaheim in particular,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of Orange County Communities Organizing for Responsible Development (OCCORD), a grassroots advocacy group based in Anaheim.

Syed referred to a rally held at Pearson Park by the Ku Klux Klan in February and a string of threatening letters recently sent to local mosques.

“Anaheim is not the city of kindness as the mayor envisions…it’s a hub of hatred, unfortunately, one of the primary centers of hatred in Orange County,” Syed added.

Moreno said it was important for city leaders to send a strong message that they do not support anti-immigrant rhetoric “by tacit silence or even agreement,” but also insisted that the council should not be “prescriptive” in its approach and allow residents to decide through the task force.

Moreno’s vague approach irked some members of the council.

“We’re all getting a lot of questions about ‘what does this mean,’” said Councilwoman Kris Murray, who last year pushed a resolution to condemn anti-immigrant rhetoric by then-candidate Trump. Murray did not say whether or not she would support any resolutions related to undocumented immigrants.

“I think the public has a right to know if this is something that is more a substantive programmatic change or a more of an outreach program. It’s just not clear.”

What is a “Sanctuary City?”

While Santa Ana, a city that is nearly 80 percent Latino and has an all-Latino council, faced little opposition in its sanctuary city declaration, it remains a politically perilous term in most parts of Orange County.

Nearly two weeks before the November 8 election, Anaheim City Council candidate Mark Lopez, a Republican, drew swift condemnation from the Orange County Republican Party for the answer he gave to a question about sanctuary cities at a debate hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Asked whether he would support Anaheim designating itself a sanctuary city, Lopez avoided using that term but said he is against deportations that would separate families, noting that he sponsored his formerly unauthorized father for citizenship. He also said he is opposed to local authorities using resources on immigration enforcement.

Lopez’s remarks prompted the OC GOP to pull funding for Lopez, who received their endorsement in his race. Lopez later paid for a robocall to constituents denying any support for declaring Anaheim a sanctuary city, and the party restored funding for his campaign.

Moreno says confusion around the term cuts both ways and may give a false sense of security to immigrants.

“In a sanctuary city, if ICE comes with a federal warrant for your arrest, there’s nothing anyone can do, unless you run into a church,” said Moreno. “It’s a misnomer…what the city is really saying is, ‘we’re keeping you safe from ourselves. We will not go after you.’”

The most common policies prohibit city employees, including law enforcement, from asking people about their immigration status.

California’s Trust Act also prohibits local law enforcements from complying with federal immigration detainer requests, unless the individual has committed serious violent felonies.

The Anaheim Police Department generally does not cooperate or aid immigration authorities, nor do officers question people about their immigration status. However, the department’s written policy does allow them to respond to specific requests from ICE for help in apprehending immigrants with a history of violent felonies.

And though the police department will help with traffic or peacekeeping during ICE operations, the city Anaheim specifically prohibits holding people on traffic violations for longer than two hours.

But Anaheim does not go as far as Los Angeles, home to more than one million immigrants without legal status.

In Los Angeles, the police department does cooperate with immigration authorities when their request involves violent felons. But the city goes further through the mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, which offers services to immigrants with or without legal status including assistance with applications for deferred action and information about applying for citizenship.

San Francisco, which declared itself a sanctuary city in 1989, drew national scrutiny for its refusal to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, after Kathryn Steinle was fatally shot by Mexican national Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who had been deported five times before the shooting.

Lopez-Sanchez had a federal detainer on him, but because his felonies and deportations were related to narcotics charges, not violent crimes, he was released from jail, in keeping with the city’s policy.

Mixed Messages From the Dais

Councilman Stephen Faessel said that while he is open to any efforts to make Anaheim “safe for all residents,” he worries about how a sanctuary city policy would affect crime.

“The sanctuary city, taken to its extreme, can also mean protecting…a significant criminal element, and I would not be in a position to say that a criminal has any more rights because he’s in Anaheim than any other city,” Faessel said.

President Barack Obama’s Secure Communities deportation program was aimed at identifying and deporting serious criminals, but ultimately deported a large number of people for traffic violations and drug crimes.

“That’s pushed a lot of advocates to say ‘we just can’t trust the federal government,’” Moreno said. “I can’t say I’m there. If you do have a serious felon in the neighborhood, you want all components of law enforcement to be able to secure people.”

Moreno said such debates, and the details about what it means to be ‘immigrant inclusive,’ should be hashed out through the mayoral task force.

As to why he didn’t pursue a loud proclamation like what was done in Santa Ana, Moreno pointed to the city’s different context: a jail that contracts with federal immigration authorities and ongoing community efforts to end the contract.

“I think they did what they thought was best, based on what the community has seen. Some people are saying I’m playing semantics,” said Moreno. “But we need to move beyond ‘you’re safe with me,’ to actively integrating folks so we are valuing their presence.”

Councilman James Vanderbilt said the city should pass a measure “with teeth” and consider incorporating their action into the city’s legislative platform.

But, he said, the city should wait to see what the Trump administration will do before acting.

“I think most importantly is we have to make sure everybody feels safe – and how you do that depends on what Washington issues and edicts and what they’re trying to  accomplish,” Vanderbilt said.

Councilwoman Denise Barnes was the lone no vote to create the task force, while Murray and Councilwoman Lucille Kring abstained.

Kring, like Murray, was uncomfortable with the vague nature of the proposal.

“We don’t deport people, it’s the federal government that deports people. That sounds like you’re…getting really close to sanctuary city,” said Kring.

Mayor Tom Tait was the most supportive of the measure, and attempted to assuage any unease by noting that any actions recommended by the task force would be subject to final approval by the council.

Meanwhile, Syed said the public has not heard enough from the City Council and police department about how they would approach any federal deportation efforts. He hopes council members will take action before Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

The council should not only express solidarity with immigrant communities, Syed said, but also “subject anti-immigrant activists and groups to have some consequences.”

“Without that, it’s hot air,” said Syed.

Contact Thy Vo at or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

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  • kburgoyne

    The heads of police departments understand the real issue, which is not actually “protecting” undocumented immigrants. From a local public safety / law enforcement standpoint, the issue is one of community trust and communications.

    It’s essentially the same underlying reason for needing to provide basic health services to those who cannot afford it — because it helps make society safer. If those who cannot afford health services are not provided with the means to remain free (or cured) of major diseases, then it becomes a risk to the whole community. This is just one of the issues that have come under strain as a result of those politicians who pursue a self-serving agenda based in the concept that everyone should just be greedy and selfish, and not care about their fellow human beings.

    As for undocumented immigrants, the issue for local police departments is one of needing communities to not report serious crimes and other issues of safety because they’re worried they or their loved ones will then be deported (indirectly) by police. Local police departments need the community to communicate with them. The same goes for an undocumented individual seeking medical treatment. It’s important they not be afraid to seek treatment lest their condition become a health risk to the greater society.

    • LFOldTimer

      Then why arrest and jail drug dealers, thieves, embezzlers, vandals, shoplifters, traffic law violators w/ warrants and a host of others who break the law? By doing so we are removing potential informants from the streets and thus making society less safe, according to your logic. Why give special privileges to one class of violator over another?

      Do you also believe that those who violate Federal and state labor laws should go unpunished? What about those who engage in identity theft? Should we turn a blind eye to the ones who violate those laws for their informant value and to make society safer?

      Those who oppose Federal immigration law under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 should work to change the law to achieve their dream of open borders so everyone could come and go as they please without restriction. No other nation on earth allows such behavior for good reason – but if that is what a certain segment of our society wants – no consequences for those who enter the country illegally – then go for it. In the meantime and until that desire becomes reality immigration laws – like all other laws – should be obeyed and enforced.

      • Cynthia Ward

        It’s not even a matter of enforcing immigration laws, the ONLY population Trump has targeted for deportation has been FELONS who come here illegally and then commit further illegal acts, making us all less safe. Ironically that population of criminals often victimizes the otherwise decent people who have fled their native countries without the permission of our government to enter, (the ones we think we are protecting in Sanctuary City grandstanding that is empty of real protections) and those very people now become sheep to be fleeced by criminals who also enjoy warm-fuzzy feel-good non-protections. So I am not sure why some have their knickers in a knot to offer sanctuary to FELONS. Someone want to explain that to me?

        • LFOldTimer

          Is it fair to import millions of poor and uneducated migrants into California (w/o any fear of deportation) that the taxpayers are forced to provide public services for?

          What about all those obedient prospective foreigners who play by the rules and apply for admittance to the country? Is it fair to put them on hold because illegals saturate the state and nation – making no room for the legal immigrants?

          Can you name one other nation on the globe that plays by those insane rules?

      • kburgoyne

        Your debate is with the realities of what law enforcement has encountered on the street trying to keep the public safe. There has also been little opposition to deporting felons — which is of course a change from Trump’s original hyperbolic position he used to rally an extremist core base.

        The distinction only comes in the form of the counterproductive nature of throwing a wide net to catch a few fish. If the person is indeed a felon, then the nature of that claim says the person has been convicted of a felony through due process. If the person is already in custody, then obviously the concerns expressed above do not apply for the most part. If the felon is not already in custody, the person is still not protected because s/he is wanted as a convicted felon, not for immigration status.

        Any statement of a Trump position is highly dubious. The man has changed his position constantly as he “plays to the crowd”. His original position used to rally an extremist core base did NOT include “felon”. The truth of this can be seen in the fact that limiting his hyperbole to only felons would NOT have been greeted as favorably by his extremist core base. The extremist core base he was targeting would have viewed such limitations on his part as a failure to support exporting everyone. Thus the claim of “felons only” is NOT the position of his extremist core base.

        • LFOldTimer

          Thanks for your response although it was not responsive to specific counterarguments found in my previous comment to you.

          Why should the authorities turn a blind eye to those who violate US immigration laws while they apply the full force of the law to other non-felon criminal types that I listed in my comment? Do you favor inequality under the law? A thief, a vandal or a shoplifter on the lam would likely refuse to cooperate with the police or act as an informant, interfering with “community trust and communication”. Please explain why we should give special privileges of immunity to a particular class of criminal?

          Then based on the gist of your response it appears that you would oppose ‘sanctuary city’ status for municipal governments. San Francisco is a ‘sanctuary city’ and released a convicted illegal alien felon (7 times over) from the city jail who had previously been deported 5 times back onto the San Francisco streets. The violator subsequently shot and killed Kate Steinle – a vibrant and engaging young woman – who was walking along the piers with her father. Being a ‘sanctuary city’ the San Francisco authorities refused to honor an ICE detainer placed on the violator and released him despite his lengthy criminal record. Why? Because that’s what sanctuary cities do! Outcome: A beautiful and intelligent young woman with everything to live for is now dead.

          Apparently you did not listen to Trump’s first press conference yesterday. He made it very clear that he’s not going to delay building the wall and making Mexico pay for it. And he said he’s going to implement E-Verify – which will effectively force millions of illegal foreigners to self-deport since they won’t be allowed to continue to violate Federal and state labor laws by holding jobs they’re not authorized to work.

          And please explain why US and California citizen taxpayers should be forced to pay for public services provided to those who illegally enter our country? Is that fair? What would your reaction be if the Federal or California legislators forced you to open the door of your personal residence to an illegal family and mandated you to house, feed and pay for their medical and educational needs?

          Finally, do you think it’s fair or equitable for a LEGAL foreign immigrant applicant who respects and plays by the rule of law to gain admittance to the US (submits the application, pays the fees, complies with the background check, takes the tests, etc..) to be placed on hold for years by the government because many millions of illegal aliens who willfully violated our laws and stole jobs that are no longer available for the LEGAL immigrant?

          Thanks in advance for your response.

          • kburgoyne

            Actually I did respond. I indicated your debate was with law enforcement. I am simply mentioning what I have heard from interviews with law enforcement. It seems that neither of us has the professional expertise to do other than express our personal opinions.

          • LFOldTimer

            Law enforcement is dependent on the politicians to get their fat pay raises, pensions and to protect them from accountability. The politicians collect hefty campaign contributions and endorsements from public safety to retain political power. It’s a quid-pro-quo relationship if you haven’t figured it out yet.

            No, you didn’t respond to my specific counterarguments and concerns about the damage illegal immigration has caused to our community – to the integrity of our justice system and to the social and financial fabric of society.

            In your original comment you made claims that I countered. I gave specific examples why I felt your premise was flawed. You failed to respond. Read it again.

  • I wonder if federal funding for protection from terrorist acts against diseyland could be a factor?

  • Vern Pat Nelson

    Should I respond with a muddled comment?