March 22, 2017

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau is asking his colleagues Thursday to approve a resolution opposing Senate Bill 54, the “California Values Act,” which would bar local law enforcement from detaining or arresting people for immigration violations.

Brandau argues that the bill would effectively designate California as a “sanctuary state” for undocumented immigrants and endanger billions of dollars in federal money to the state and its local governments, including about $127 million in annual federal funds to the city of Fresno. The law would prohibit local state and law enforcement agencies from investigating or asking people about their immigration status or detaining people at the request of federal immigration authorities. It would also require public schools, public health facilities and courts to adopt policies limiting their cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Brandau’s fears about SB 54 are stoked by President Donald Trump’s pledges to deprive self-proclaimed “sanctuary cities” of federal money.

“This resolution is all about money,” Brandau said Wednesday. “It’s not about trying to solve all of the issues we face with immigration. It’s not about asking for more power or less power. It’s really focusing on the money we get from the federal government.”

If the state Legislature passed SB 54, “the state jeopardizes state and local authorities’ receipt of federal funds,” Brandau’s resolution declares. “The loss of federal funding would be a disaster for the city, and would impair funding for important functions and projects such as roads, public transportation, public safety and housing.”

Brandau said Fresno’s allocation of money from various federal departments goes toward police officers at middle schools, two companies of firefighters, and public works projects including traffic signal synchronization, sidewalk and street repairs and other capital needs. Public Works Director “Scott Mozier said we get $6 million to $8 million annually for street repairs,” Brandau said. “I don’t see how we come up with $8 million if we don’t have that federal money.”

Whether Brandau can get three other City Council members to vote for his resolution is uncertain.

The issue of sanctuary status at either the state or local level is a hot-button political issue, as Fresno Mayor Lee Brand learned after he was sworn in earlier this year. Brand told The Bee in January that he does not favor Fresno labeling itself as a sanctuary city, adding that Fresno Police Department policies already call for officers and the department to do their work without asking witnesses, suspects or anyone else their immigration status or taking any action related to immigration law – policies, he said, that are consistent with those in cities calling themselves sanctuaries.

Brand’s refusal to call Fresno a sanctuary city attracted the ire of community advocates who nonetheless pressed for a sanctuary declaration.

On March 15, a group of 80 religious leaders from throughout the San Joaquin Valley – including 29 Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Mennonite, nondenominational and other Christian congregations, as well as Jewish and Islamic congregations in Fresno – representing Faith in the Valley sent a letter to local and state elected officials in the Valley urging them to defend immigrants in the region.

“Immigrants (documented and undocumented) and refugees comprise a significant portion of our population here in the Central Valley,” wrote the clergy leaders, including Bishop Armando X. Ochoa, leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno. “They not only make our economy run and feed the world, they are also a major reason why we are proud to call this region our home.”

The letter expresses concerns about growing fear and anxiety among the Valley’s immigrant communities over the potential for increased deportations by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. “We … implore you to do everything in your power to defend and affirm the human dignity of immigrants, refugees and all others in need of safe haven among your constituency,” the letter added.

SB 54, authored by state Senate president pro tem Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, was introduced in December and has been approved by the Senate Public Safety and Appropriations committees. It was due for a third reading on the Senate floor on Wednesday. If approved in the Senate, the bill would then make its way into the state Assembly for consideration.

“I’m a Republican who supports comprehensive immigration reform,” Brandau said. “There are bigger issues, but this is not about those other issues. … This (bill) is a political statement from Sacramento, aimed at the president, but places like Fresno get put into the crosshairs.”