Simi asks Chertoff to intervene in illegal immigrant stalemate
By Anna Bakalis (Contact)
Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Simi Valley City Council is calling for the secretary of Homeland Security to personally end a stalemate between the city and a local church sheltering an illegal immigrant.

Mayor Paul Miller sent a letter Wednesday to Secretary Michael Chertoff detailing a conflict between the city and the United Church of Christ, which has been housing Liliana, an illegal immigrant whose most recent home was in Oxnard and who is wanted for deportation, and her U.S.-born son.

Miller said the city approached Homeland Security before, through the Washington office of Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Simi Valley. Both Chertoff's department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement refused to be involved, the letter says.

Protesters have demonstrated outside the former parsonage where Liliana is staying, and, the mayor said, the city had to call in local law enforcement to maintain peace.

"Had the federal agencies acted in their official and delegated capacities, this could have all been avoided," the letter states.

The letter is accompanied by a statement from the City Council that says the current situation is "a debate borne of a broken system and a lack of expeditious due process and enforcement."

On Tuesday, the council met in closed session and unanimously agreed to send the letter to Chertoff. The previous day, Miller and City Manager Mike Sedell flew to Washington, D.C., and met with an official at the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the situation.

Since Liliana will not voluntarily leave the church, nor will the church ask her to leave, the only option left, the mayor writes, is "for the Department of Homeland Security to exercise their lawful responsibility, provide final adjudication of the individual's status and either allow her to stay or deport her."

The letter is the latest in a two-week dispute between city and church leaders after Miller sent the church a $40,000 bill for police services following the Sept. 16 demonstration that saw about 150 anti-illegal immigration protesters and counter-protesters screaming across the church's driveway.

Last week the $39,307 bill was put on hold, pending further discussion. The city will not pursue the action legally, at the advice of legal counsel, officials said.

Liliana, 29, has lived at the church just over a month and is part of a national New Sanctuary Movement aimed at keeping families of illegal immigrants together. Her husband and three children are legal citizens.

Although Miller said he doesn't want to be the face of a broader immigration debate, the issue has brought a spotlight on the city.

Several days after the mayor resolved to send the bill, two legal organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, called for an immediate withdrawal of the bill, saying it was unconstitutional.

The church remains firm in its resolve to keep Liliana at the parsonage, while the city continues to believe the church should take responsibility for the money and law enforcement time spent on what was a "direct result of their actions" after announcing they were sheltering Liliana.

The church did not return a call for comment regarding the letter. ... sanctuary/