Attorney Brian K. Williams, executive director, L.A. Sheriffs Civilian Oversight Committee, gives presentation during its June 22 meeting. (Photo Courtesy of Charlene Muhammad)

The battle over making California a “sanctuary state” for so-called undocumented immigrants dominated the June 22 meeting of the newly formed Los Angeles County Sheriffs Civilian Oversight Commission.

SB-54, “The California Values Act,” would repeal the existing law that requires law enforcement to share the immigration status of anyone arrested for drug offenses with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

Church Without Walls – Skid Row Pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie dialogues with Clay Gibson, another SB-54 supporter during civilian oversight committee meeting. (Photo Courtesy of Charlene Muhammad)

Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) said he introduced SB-54 to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians by ensuring that state and local resources are not used to fuel mass deportations, separate families, or divide people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, or national or ethnic origins.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on January 25, 2017, which empowers state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform ICE functions. Any states that refuse to cooperate face cuts in funding.

SB-54 passed the Senate and was being weighed by the Assembly Judiciary Committee at press time.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell has said the issue is not one of politics, but about protecting people.  “If ICE is not given access to the jails, where the most serious and violent offenders are housed, then very predictably, ICE agents will have no other alternative but to seek out their targets and make their arrests in our communities, on the streets, in neighborhoods and in homes,” he stated.

Opponents of SB-54 flash posters during civilian oversight commission meeting. (Photo Courtesy of Charlene Muhammad)

A diverse procession of primarily Caucasian speakers expressed support for law enforcement and against SB-54 during the public comment portion of the Sheriffs Civilian Oversight Commission meeting.

“This legislation will allow individuals, who’ve broken our law, such as DUI -drunk drivers – will be totally protected under SB-54.  That is not correct.  That is not the way society should be run,” stated one female speaker.

“I’m here to say thank you to our law enforcement and I would just like to point something out:  4 1/2 million Californians voted for Mr. Trump and that’s 4 1/2 million Californians that stand behind enforcing our laws,” she said.

“I’m totally opposed to any funding for illegal aliens facing deportation in Los Angeles … we legal U.S. citizens already [educate], medicate, feed thousands of illegal aliens, and when will this idiocy cease?” stated one man.  “God bless the USA, and the red, white, and blue,” he said.

Scott Doyle thanked several commissioners for illuminating the case of immigrant rights activist Claudia Rueda, who was detained by Border Patrol, and larger issues of unintended consequences of joint operations between LA. Sheriffs and ICE.

Doyle said the Trump administration has touted a narrative of the “good vs. bad” immigrant, but as of late, that distinction has been tossed out.  Now, it speaks as if all undocumented immigrants are an immediate or potential threat, he said.

“In light of those comments, I would question whether local law enforcement can in good faith engage in a partnership with such an agency,” Doyle stated.  He encouraged commissioners to look into minimizing to the fullest extent of the law cooperation with ICE as long as it current philosophy prevails.

One woman who identified herself as an immigrant from El Salvador, said she’s been called a white supremacist and racist, because she cares about the country.  She stated her family has been in the U.S. for 30 years, and they “came here legally,” so why can’t everybody do the same, she told commissioners.

She said she represents Latinos for Trump in L.A.  “As an immigrant, I see the sanctuary cities only promote lawlessness,” she said.  “I don’t think that we’re able to pick ourselves up if we allow all these people that we don’t even know who they are,” she stated.

Pastor Stephen “Cue” Jn-Marie of the “Church Without Walls” in Skid Row began his comment with scripture.  “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent.  The Greek-speaking believers complained about Hebrew-speaking, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food,” he recited.

Wherever people are expressing discontent, it’s not about division, but it’s actually justice, he said.  He told commissioners an unjust law is no law at all.

“The original Europeans came here undocumented.  I said the original Europeans came here undocumented, with liberty and justice for all!  We can put it on our heart, but that has never been the case in America. Can’t no one in this room argue that point,” Jn-Marie said.

“I support SB-54. Where were these folks when Sheriff (Lee) Baca was breaking the law?  The reason we have this commission is because of that,” he argued.

Activists with the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition urged the commissioners to take up the issue of the Sheriff Department obtaining drones and then vote no.

It’s been six months, said Hamid Khan. He questioned, why the delay and foot dragging?

Atty. Brian Williams told the Sentinel that the commission is in a learning curve and doing its best to get as much input from the community as it can.  “For being in formation for about six months, I think we’ve gone a pretty long way,” Williams stated.

He said because the Sheriff’s Department has been around for some 167 years, the commission has to have a very measured and managed approach, because lots of reform is necessary.

The commission is studying the drone issue and the Sheriffs’ cooperation with ICE, he said.  The drones issue is slated for its meeting in July, and August’s meeting will focus on the subject of immigration, he noted.

“It’s important that the community stays engaged in what we’re doing, and if there’s something going right or going wrong, we want to hear about it,” Williams said.