Opinon: California’s Sanctuary Law Actually Protects American Citizens

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Orange County Sheriff’s Department cruisers. Photo by John Schreiber via MyNewsLA.com

By Chris Jennewein

Amid the avalanche of criticism from the right, it’s easy to forget that California’s sanctuary law was all about keeping American citizens in California safe from crime.

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As Donald Trump stoked anti-immigrant fervor during his presidential campaign, California officials worried that years of progress in getting immigrants to report crimes and work with local police would come to an end. In the immigrant communities of Los Angeles, San Diego and the sprawling Central Valley, police need people to freely report crimes and identify suspects — without fear that they will be deported.

If immigrants feel comfortable working with local police, then American citizens will benefit from the greater community safety.

Senate Bill 54, which Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is challenging in court, is very specific. The law bars state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources to help with immigration enforcement. They are prohibited from asking about immigration status, giving federal immigration authorities access to interview a person in custody, or assisting them in immigration enforcement.

This helps local law enforcement solve local crimes, and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department — the largest in the country — is a supporter.

“SB 54 clearly reflects what is working in Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” said Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Public safety is our mission. This requires that people come forward if they are a crime victim or be willing to come forth as a witness to a crime without fear of being deported.”

But conservatives can’t see past their anger with immigration. If you read the Fox News website, it seems that every major crime is committed by an immigrant. So it’s no surprise that conservatives would consider targeting immigrants as more important than keeping local neighborhoods safe.

President Trump made a big deal of the Orange County Board of Supervisors decision to join Sessions’ suit. But Orange County isn’t typical California. It’s a traditional haven for unhinged conservatism, from the John Birch Society in the 1950s to the “birthers” of the past decade.

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There has been some discussion of San Diego County following its northern neighbor, but unlike his counterpart in Orange County, Sheriff Bill Gore does not advocate a challenge to the new law.

The final version of Senate Bill 54 was opposed by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, but not the California Police Chiefs Association, which was officially neutral. This makes sense when you consider that most immigrant communities are in cities protected by local police. Sheriffs are elected, and often represent large rural areas with conservative voters.

It all comes down to whether you see local safety or removing undocumented immigrants as the higher priority.

For now, California remains a “sanctuary state” as Session’s challenge winds its way through the courts. If you’re concerned about community safety, that’s a good thing.

Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.

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