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City Council wary of adopting new sanctuary city policies

Ordinance would have strengthened new statewide immigrant protection laws

In light of new state laws turning all of California into a "sanctuary" jurisdiction, Mountain View City Council members agreed Tuesday night that additional local restrictions blocking collaboration between local law enforcement and Federal Immigration Enforcement (ICE) were largely unnecessary.

In a series of unanimous votes at the Oct. 24 meeting, council members agreed to adopt resolutions stating in no uncertain terms that Mountain View supports its residents regardless of immigration status and does not participate in federal immigration enforcement activity. The council also supported a resolution stating that the city would oppose any type of registry created by the federal government based on religion, aimed at rebuking President Donald Trump's apparent openness to a Muslim registry.

But council members stopped short of adopting new city laws that would have created a more prominent divide between local law enforcement and ICE, which police and city officials said would have been largely symbolic in nature, hard to enforce and not much different from policies already on the books.

Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 54 -- also known as the California Values Act -- which prohibits cities and counties from arresting or detaining people solely for violating federal immigration laws, and bars local jurisdictions from providing information to ICE about jail release dates for inmates suspected of being in the country illegally. The law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

But local immigrant rights advocates say there are holes in the law worth plugging in order to assuage deportation fears in the community, and urged City Council to adopt additional protections ensuring there is a robust firewall preventing the Mountain View Police Department from working with ICE. A model ordinance, created by the group Services Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN), proposed eliminating any discretion the department has to notify ICE that a suspect is in police custody.

"SB 54 is a great floor, but there are many gaps," said Jeremy Barousse, SIREN's director of civic engagement. He said the organization's proposal guarantees no collaboration with immigration enforcement without exceptions, and eliminates the mixed signals the immigrant community receives about whom they can and can't trust.

"Just knowing about a little bit of collaboration sends a very confusing message and starts a chilling effect," he said. "A lot of community members are confused about which law enforcement (agency) they can engage with."

SB 54 leaves wiggle room for police to communicate with federal agents if the suspect has a recent felony conviction, but exposing those suspects to deportation can have far-reaching consequences, warned Priya Murthy, policy and advocacy director for SIREN. She said that kind of collaboration not only breaks up families in the community, but it also leads to more "collateral" arrests, where people without criminal records are incidentally detained in an ICE raid.

"The reality is that innocent community members get swept up," she said.

Although SB 54 gives Mountain View police the authority to notify ICE in narrow circumstances, it has been a long-standing tradition -- both in the culture and in the procedures of the department -- not to work with federal immigration agencies, said Capt. Jessica Nowaski of the Mountain View Police Department. Even in cases where criminals in police custody do fall under the "litany of crimes" that allow police to notify ICE, she said, it's simply not something the department does.

What's more, it's difficult to even think of a scenario where police would notify ICE of a suspect in police custody instead of handling him or her off to the county, Nowaski said. The department has a holding cell but no jail -- meaning massive portions of SB 54 don't even apply to the city -- and there are few situations where police would conceivably notify ICE of a suspect during the arrest and pre-booking period. The only scenario she could think of would be in an instance where a serious felon with a warrant ended up in the hospital, either because of a gang fight or a car accident, and could not be booked in Santa Clara County's main jail, she said.

"It's a little bit challenging to address a phantom scenario that we really haven't encountered in real life in the last 10 years," Nowaski said.

The city could also go above and beyond SB 54 by preventing local police from participating in regional task force investigations involving federal agencies, which Nowaski warned could restrict the department's ability to fight crime. The Mountain View Police Department has worked with federal law enforcement on joint efforts like the Safe Streets Task Force, which has successfully solved serious crimes in both Mountain View and neighboring communities.

The city's existing policies already go a long way towards showing compassion for the immigrant community, said councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, who questioned the need for the additional sanctuary city protections. Last month, the city adopted several so-called "Freedom City" policies drafted by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the police department subsequently updated its Immigration Violation Enforcement Policy spelling out that officers will not facilitate ICE in carrying out "civil" warrants to detain and arrest individuals whose only crime is their immigration status. The city already has grounds to call itself a "sanctuary city," Abe-Koga said.

"I think we have been compassionate and we haven't had much issue," she said.

Councilman John McAlister said the city has a long-standing reputation for taking care of its own, and that a new sanctuary city ordinance doesn't seem necessary when both the council and police Chief Max Bosel have made it unambiguously clear that the city will not participate in federal immigration enforcement. The City Council has already designated Mountain View a "Human Rights" city last year and adopted most of the ACLU's Freedom City policies -- adding another label would only serve to confuse people, he said.

Council members did ultimately vote 7-0 on a handful of measure unrelated to law enforcement, aimed at making city services more inclusive and stripping away any unnecessary inquiries about immigration status. Staff will verify that city benefits and services are not conditioned on immigration status, and that applications and questionnaires do not include questions about immigration status. City staff will accept identification documents from an individual's nation of origin as a legitimate form of identification and will also ensure that immigrant rights information will be "prominently" displayed.

Council members also voted to inject language into the city's existing Equitable Communities Resolution with a direct statement that it is neither Mountain View's mission nor role to enforce immigration laws, and that members of the police department will not detain or arrest people on the basis of their citizenship or immigration status.

Opposition to anti-Muslim registry

During the same hours-long agenda item, the City Council considered whether to take additional steps beyond state law to oppose any future federal registry of citizens based on religious beliefs, practices, national origin or ethnicity. Earlier this month, Governor Brown signed the California Religious Freedoms Act to safeguard against any such registry by prohibiting state and local agencies from taking part in or committing resources.

The state law, which took effect immediately, was a direct response to comments made by President Donald Trump while on the campaign trail last year, as well as soon after his victory in the presidential election, when he expressed an openness to the idea of tracking Muslim Americans for the purposes of national security. During his campaign, Trump also called for a temporary Muslim ban, and later attempted to enact multiple travel bans barring travel to the U.S. from majority Muslim countries.

Mountain View could take it a step further and expand the protections to include personal information on citizenship status, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and race, but council members eventually decided against it. Councilman Lenny Siegel said the city is in an awkward spot trying to address national problems that haven't "fully manifested" themselves yet, and suggested the council include strong language in the Equitable Communities Resolution opposing a future registry. The motion passed 7-0.

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