Fullerton City Council votes not to take stance on Department of Justice lawsuit against sanctuary city laws in California

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A woman holds a sign that reads "Listen to voters, We want SB54" in a crowded city council meeting
(Jaime Cornejo / Daily Titan)

Fullerton City Council will not take a stance on the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against California for its three sanctuary laws entitling undocumented immigrants to certain protections.

“I was a little (surprised by this decision) just because I wasn’t sure where it was going,” said council member Jesus Silva, who said he initially suspected the council would vote to support the lawsuit at its Tuesday meeting.

Mayor Doug Chaffee, Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn and Silva voted in favor of receiving and filing the consideration, with opposition from council member Jennifer Fitzgerald and an abstention by council member Bruce Whitaker. The inaction was met with uproarious applause by a majority of the audience.  

In response to hecklers in the audience asking what it meant to receive and file, Sebourn and Chaffee said that the city would elect to remain silent on the issue without alienating those opposed to the lawsuit.

The matter was brought before the council at the request of Fitzgerald, who was in favor of supporting the lawsuit, citing overreach by the state and its sanctuary laws’ strain on the ability of the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Sebourn, who seconded bringing the issue before the council, hinted at his support for the lawsuit toward the beginning of the meeting.

“This is about public security, not immigration,” Fitzgerald said. “I actually am a supporter of immigration reform.”

The DOJ filed the lawsuit against California on April 2 over its three sanctuary laws which include State Senate Bill 54, which limits what local and state law enforcement agencies can say to each other and their ability to aid federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.

Fitzgerald’s stance prompted some of the more than 100 public commenters to accuse the council as a whole of being racist.

Whitaker, who voiced his support for the DOJ lawsuit before abstaining in the vote, had denied being a racist several times during the deliberations, and even asked Silva to reassure the audience of that. Silva did not say anything in response, but nodded his head.

“We need to support those who do follow the rules,” Whitaker said. “If you’re calling me a racist, you’re wrong.”

Fitzgerald did not spend her deliberations responding to those accusations. Rather, she consulted Fullerton Police Chief David Hendricks for factual information on how the police department interacts with undocumented immigrants.

Hendricks said the department was not concerned with citizens’ legal statuses.

“As police officers, we frankly don’t care,” Hendricks said.

In response to claims by public commenters that council members had not previously spoken out in support of undocumented immigrants, Fitzgerald said “I have, and I will continue to do so.”

Chaffee spoke last during deliberations. His stance on the issue had been unclear up to that point.

“I disagree with the characterizations of my colleagues,” said Chaffee. “But I don’t think the constitutions are in conflict. I cannot support (a lawsuit) that I have seen denigrate the immigrant community.”

Even though the city technically did not take action, Silva said not supporting the lawsuit was worth the compromise.

“I don’t think we would have gotten three votes to not support. I think this was the way to go where we would still leave it as is and not get involved,” Silva said.

 

Marco Moreno, a Cal State Fullerton graduate student and son of two immigrants, shared the same mentality.

“I would have wanted them to say we oppose this,” Moreno said. “But it’s the best outcome that I would have wanted.”

Among the public speakers imploring the council not to support the lawsuit was Associated Students Vice President-elect Ana Aldazabal.

“I think it’s shameful that Fullerton would want to support a lawsuit like this, especially because there’s so many undocumented and DACA folks that live in Fullerton and go to Cal State Fullerton, including myself,” Aldazabal said.

Jeff Cook, chief communications officer for a university with more than 1,000 undocumented students, said in an email that since coming to CSUF, “(CSUF) President (Framroze) Virjee has been unambiguous about his passionate support for our undocumented students, and as a campus we remain unapologetic in standing with and standing up for all Titans.”

Silva attributes the council’s late night decision to the meeting’s opposition turnout.

“I guess the will of the people does allow for shifts to happen at the last moment,” Silva said.

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