Neighbors divided over how to treat strangers clashed outside and inside Santa Clarita City Hall for hours Tuesday.
Hundreds of Santa Clarita residents spoke at the City Council meeting until 1 a.m. supporting or opposing a federal lawsuit against California Senate Bill 54, the law that limits state and local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Ultimately, Santa Clarita City Council members voted unanimously to file an amicus brief against the state that would join them in the federal lawsuit by the Trump administration.
Councilman Bob Kellar expressed strong support for the brief, as did Mayor Pro Tem Marsha McLean and Mayor Laurene Weste.
“We’ve lost deputies in this valley,” Weste said. “Limiting law enforcement from agency to agency is a mistake.”
Councilman Bill Miranda reminded citizens they could only represent so many of their interests.
“(We keep hearing), ‘there are three of you running for election and you better be careful,’” Miranda said. “Understand one thing: it’s not about elections. It’s about doing the right thing for the right reasons. If that means I don’t get elected, so be it.”
Councilman Cameron Smyth, who had previously served in the California Assembly, said they had received 442 emails that opposed the state law and 63 that wanted to stand with S.B. 54.
Smyth acknowledged that there were comments on both sides that he agreed with, such as that “promises (to grant immigration status to veterans who served) should be kept.” However, he wanted the separation of state law and local law to be more defined and was concerned about a general rise of crime.
“It’s true that overwhelmingly people who are coming here are doing that for a better life,” Smyth said. “But I genuinely don’t think it’s unreasonable to allow local law enforcement, if they choose, to have that choice, to notify federal officials. It doesn’t mean they have to, but S.B. 54 prevents that as a blanket stop. I have real concerns about the bigger picture with the continual erosion of local control.”
Before the meeting, the split crowd gathered to protest. Those to the right of the steps thought immigrants here illegally made Santa Clarita, a conservative spot in otherwise blue Los Angeles County, a more dangerous place. The other side, literally on the left, believed the system was rigged against immigrants and the law kept families together.
“Every one of you can go, get on a bus!” one opponent of the sanctuary law shouted to cries of outrage from supporters of the law. “Except you,” he said, pointing at a young woman standing near him. “You can stay. You’re looking pretty good.”
“No ban, no wall, sanctuary for all,” supporters of the law shouted back.
Then the two groups left their signs at the deputy sheriff-flanked doors, quieting their insults as they walked in a single-file line into the Council Chambers for the opening of the meeting.
They bowed their heads together to pray the opening prayer led by Councilman Bill Miranda.
“May we always act in accordance with what is best for our community and our fellow citizens,” Miranda said.
“Amen,” community members from both sides of the aisle chimed in unison, before clapping in anticipation of public comment.
After announcements from the five council members, public comment with the 150 speakers began. Most who spoke over the seven-hour meeting opposed the state law. (Council comment and discussion begin at 3:18:30 mark.)
The opposed, such as Susan Agnes, said this bill was about deporting “illegal” criminals, not actual legal immigrants.
“We’re stuck with American criminals, but we can and should send illegal criminals back,” Agnes said. “They should have enough respect to obey our laws that help our country be so great.”
Krystal Mora said part of her family on her dad’s side is Mexican-American and that their legal migration in the 1920’s informed her opposition.
“The main fight for me is the safety of the American people and the people that are protecting the American citizens from illegal criminals that are being harbored in our state,” she said. “I want to talk about the fear of our law-abiding officers that patrol our streets protecting the citizens. Like Sacramento deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis, who were killed by illegal immigrant Luis Bracamontes. With the state’s support of S.B. 54, it will cost American taxpayers (millions of) dollars to incarcerate him for the murder of the two deputies that were ambushed and killed.”
Randy Callender, a second-generation son of immigrants, disapproved of S.B. 54. “For California to go against the (federal) law the way it’s doing, it’s really unlawful,” he said. “My grandfather came from Barbados. He came illegally. Many people that came first brought their families later. They came in the right way. That’s the way everyone should come in.”
Don Rosenberg, father to a son who was killed by an immigrant here illegally, also spoke.
“We never talk about the families that are torn apart by illegal aliens,” he said. “To (people) that said sanctuary laws don’t hurt anybody, I’m evidence that you’re wrong.”
Supporters said being an anti-sanctuary city would be hypocritical and separate families, while its mission is touted as a family-friendly town.
“This will result in separating families,” Alex Reza said. “It’s not in our American tradition. We’re family-friendly, not just white-family-friendly.”
Resident Gretchen Zovak said she was a veteran who had served with immigrants who were promised citizenship in exchange for their service. They never received it before being deported, she said.
Teresa Galvez, a Spanish-speaking, 10-year Santa Clarita resident, said she often saw families separated, and came to her asking for water and shelter.
“They are forgotten by their children (in their native country), waiting to die to receive their money,” she said with the help of a translator.
“I’m not racist!” residents wearing “Make America Great Again” hats shouted from the front rows.
“If you wonder why it’s taken 53 years to address immigration, listen to the room,” Mayor Laurene Weste said to the rowdy crowd. “Please be respectful.”
The meeting ended with cheers from the bill’s opponents, some falling to their knees with relief.
“USA! USA! USA!” they yelled. “Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!”
“This is what America looks like!”