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Immigrant Rights Groups, ACLU Call On Sheriff To Reverse Opposition To 'Sanctuary State' Bill

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Sheriff Jim McDonnell speaks to reporters on Thursday. (Photo by Julia Wick/LAist)
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On Thursday, a coalition of immigrant rights, faith, civil rights, and labor groups met with L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell to call on the sheriff to reverse his vocal opposition to the so-called "sanctuary state" bill. The advocates were unsuccessful in their attempts to sway McDonnell from continuing to oppose Senate Bill 54, which is scheduled to come before the state Assembly later this month. Immigrants rights advocates have been critical of what they see as continued cooperation between the Sheriff's Department and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

"He's willing to listen to ICE, in terms of their demands, before he listens to our demands as a community," Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights Los Angeles (CHIRLA), said at a press conference immediately following Thursday morning's meeting.

SB 54 would further limit local law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration authorities. More specifically, it would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using resources "to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or arrest persons for immigration enforcement purposes," and would also prohibit local law enforcement from complying with “hold requests” to detain immigrants for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The bill, also known as the California Values Act, was introduced to the state legislature by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in December.

Despite his role as top cop for deep blue Los Angeles, McDonnell has been one of the bill's most vocal opponents. He also stands virtually alone among L.A. leaders in his opposition; even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has formally endorsed SB 54. Hector Villagra, executive director at the ACLU of Southern California, went so far as to say that McDonnell "has become the sole impediment to SB 54 being passed in California."

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"His main argument is that if SB 54 passes, there are going to be more raids in communities and nobody wants that," Villagra said, referencing the fact that the sheriff has said that blocking ICE from the jails would force immigration agents "into our communities in order to search out and find the person they seek," where they will "most surely cast a wide net."

Sheriff McDonnell also spoke to reporters Thursday morning, saying that he and the immigrant rights groups had "a great meeting." He reiterated his position that blocking ICE access to jails would lead to collateral arrests in communities and ultimately hurt public trust. "We're in a position right now where we are able to—as best we can—strike that balance between public trust and public safety," McDonnell said.

"Those raids are already happening," the ACLU's Hector Villagra said. "If [McDonnell] is willing to put his trust in what this administration says, particularly around immigration enforcement when it's already told us that virtually all 11 million undocumented are targets for enforcement, then he's either being naive or disingenuous. But either way, he has no credibility on this topic."

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Related: Photos: Immigrant Rights Groups Protest Sheriff McDonnell's Stance On 'Sanctuary State' Bill