An immigrant rights attorney retained by Los Angeles leaders has proposed ways to officially make the city a “sanctuary” for undocumented immigrants and an “arrest-free zone” for those known as Dreamers who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.
Attorney Peter Schey, founder of Los Angeles-based Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law Foundation, presented his 28-page report dubbed “LASafe” to a City Council committee Thursday afternoon. The report is designed to serve as a template for “sanctuary city” policies in Los Angeles, according to Fredy Ceja, a spokesman for City Councilman Gil Cedillo.
The proposals in LASafe could make their way into a motion Cedillo hopes to introduce Friday to begin the process of making Los Angeles a sanctuary city for immigrants, Ceja said.
During a Thursday hearing of the Immigrant Affairs, Civil Rights and Equity Committee, which Cedillo chairs, the councilman said it’s time to move forward on “sanctuary city” efforts.
Council President Herb Wesson, who leads the full City Council, is expected to co-author the sanctuary motion, his aide said Thursday.
In general, “sanctuary cities” are those that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement. While many consider Los Angeles a sanctuary because of its policies aimed at shielding undocumented immigrants, there is no law on the books designating the city as one.
Schey’s report details how the city could be affected by President Donald Trump’s crackdown on cities he has termed “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from those cities.
Schey was tapped earlier this year to be the city’s immigrant advocate and pro-bono legal counsel on the sanctuary city issue. His new report concludes that “both the city of Los Angeles and its police department could increase protections of immigrant communities and other insular minorities without in any way violating federal laws.”
Still, there was some discussion in Thursday’s committee meeting about whether to call Los Angeles a “city of sanctuary” or a “sanctuary city.”
“I certainly think it is important,” Schey said of the wording debate. “It sets a certain tone, but if you do that without adopting substantive programs … it’s a real waste of time.”
One of Schey’s proposals is for the city to make it more difficult for immigration officials to arrest so-called Dreamers. Such undocumented immigrants have been able to take advantage of a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that shields them from deportation and gives them work permits. The Trump Administration earlier this week said it will rescind the program, created through an executive action by former President Barack Obama.
Schey wrote in his report that the “vast majority of ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) arrests in Los Angeles and elsewhere take place with no warrants.” Los Angeles should create programs or support groups that arm immigrants with information about their rights and tools to exercise those rights, he wrote.
“Without probable cause, under federal law the Dreamer cannot be arrested without an arrest warrant,” Schey wrote in the report. “ICE seldom possesses such warrants when conducting randomized questioning and arrests in public areas.”
He noted that “ICE develops ‘probable cause’ to arrest by getting the people it randomly stops and questions in public areas to admit that (i) they were born abroad, and (ii) possess no valid ‘papers.’”
He added that the city should support the creation of a smartphone application or website to display “letters of representation” that could be presented to ICE officials during detentions.
The letters would tell “ICE that the bearer exercises her/his right to remain silent and any questioning would be unlawful under federal law” and would often be able to “prevent arrest unless ICE possesses and arrest warrant,” Schey wrote.
He proposed the city also financially support groups that assist immigrants “so that local organizations and pro-bono attorneys (can) provide prompt representation in ‘bond hearings’ to win the release of any detained Dreamer, or other city resident arrested by ICE, not subject to so-called ‘mandatory detention’ under federal law.”
He also proposed that the city develop a so-called “human rights ordinance” to take a stand against “President Trump’s anti-human rights policies.” The ordinance could protect the civil and human rights of “all city residents, including Dreamers” if they fall under the definition of “protected status,” he said. That status is determined by immigration status, race, religion, sexual orientation, mental or physical disability and other labels. He also proposed a panel that would “adjudicate claims of discrimination, threats, retaliation.”
One Trump supporter was not impressed by the ideas floated during the committee hearing. Republican political consultant Randy Economy, who worked as a spokesman for the Trump campaign in California, called the “arrest-free zone” for Dreamers “an ill-conceived” idea.
A former Democrat who was active in local party activities, Economy said that immigration issues and local “sanctuary” policies that protect immigrants were some of the reasons he “went to work for Donald Trump and his campaign.”
He dismissed the aims behind Schey’s ideas, and said that undocumented immigrants are “not here legally, so they shouldn’t be here.”
“You can’t bend rules for people who shouldn’t be here in the first place,” Economy said.