Four of five Kern County supervisors voted Tuesday to oppose the proposed state “sanctuary” law that triggered a battle with Sheriff Donny Youngblood last week.
And they plan to push for changes in the bill over the next week.
Community advocates argued — in vain — that opposing Senate Bill 54 would drive immigrants in the country illegally into the shadows, split the community and portray the county as bigoted.
Other speakers questioned Youngblood’s argument that SB 54 would force him to release dangerous criminals back into the community.
The bill is weaving its way through the California Assembly after being passed by the state Senate. It would restrict local law enforcement’s ability to communicate and coordinate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials about non-violent, non-serious immigrants in the country illegally.
It is billed as a statewide “sanctuary” law for law-abiding people. But it triggered Youngblood’s proposal to name Kern a “non-sanctuary” county.
Supervisors rejected that proposal as divisive May 2.
Supervisor David Couch supported Youngblood on May 2. But the three other Republicans on the board - Zack Scrivner, Mike Maggard and Mick Gleason - chose to pursue the SB 54 opposition resolution on Tuesday and Couch joined them.
On Tuesday the board passed that resolution after hearing a small army of passionate immigration reform advocates and progressive leaders call for them to take no stance on the bill.
Supervisor Leticia Perez voted against the resolution.
“I cannot support an opposition to 54 because of the message it sends, of the polarizing impact it has,” she said.
Perez decried the media’s portrayal of the issue as misleading and simplistic.
“What is striking to me about this debate is how people are painted into two extreme camps,” she said. “We either stand with our sheriff and support law enforcement or we stand with violent illegal immigrants.”
A person of conscience can support SB 54 and law enforcement at the same time, Perez insisted.
Maggard agreed about the extreme portrayals of supervisors — by both sides of the debate.
It is shameful to suggest Perez does not support public safety and law enforcement because she supports SB 54, Maggard said.
“It is also inappropriate that people have called us racist and xenophobic,” he said.
That’s what a couple speakers said a “yes” vote on the proposal would show.
“If you vote for this you’re voting racist,” said speaker Julie Solis.
Other speakers took a more nuanced approach.
Prominent local attorney H.A. Sala said SB 54 would restrict — but wouldn’t prevent — communication between law enforcement and the federal government.
It would allow communication with federal officials about the release of a serious violent inmate who is eligible for deportation, he said.
Supervisors asked Interim County Counsel Mark Nations to respond to Sala and others who testified about the bill’s legal impact.
Nations said their observations are consistent with his interpretation of the law.
Youngblood said SB 54 would tie his hands.
The text clearly protects the perpetrators of some violent and serious offenses — solicitation of murder, felony domestic violence, human trafficking and driving under the influence with injury — from ICE deportation, he said.
Sala said it was misleading to say, as Youngblood has, that serious violent criminals would be released back into society if SB 54 is passed.
What Youngblood’s “non-sanctuary” proposal is doing — and a vote against SB 54 by supervisors would do — is create an environment of fear that would lead to immigrants not reporting crimes and not being willing to be witnesses in criminal proceedings, he said.
Youngblood said SB 54 supporters are the ones sowing fear.
His office signed more than 100 residency visas for victims of crime who are witnesses last year.
What speakers said in the board chambers Tuesday, he said, creates “fear in the community they say they want to protect.”
But labor icon Dolores Huerta told supervisors that the Kern County Sheriff’s Office is — even now — targeting people without criminal records and turning over information about them to ICE.
“Your job here as supervisors is not just to represent the Sheriff’s Office or law enforcement. We’re asking that you support our community,” Huerta said.
Youngblood said his officers aren’t arresting innocent immigrants and working with ICE to deport them.
“Let me be tactful,” he said. “That’s a lie.”
If they have information about a case where that has happened, he said, they need to bring information to him so he can investigate it.
Supervisors said they aren’t in the mood to support restrictions on Youngblood’s ability to protect public safety.
Gleason said his constituents “do not understand why we can’t support deporting criminals who are violent. It has nothing to do with racism.”
The state, he said, should be working with the federal government.
“I don’t think the state of California, in opposing that law, is in a righteous place,” Gleason said.
Scrivner said Kern County can’t make the changes that must be made to truly fix the situation.
“I think everyone would acknowledge that our leaders in Washington have failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The system is broken,” he said.
Tuesday’s vote wasn’t the last step in this drama.
Scrivner said that he, Perez and County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop will meet with the bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, to ask for changes to the language.
They hope Youngblood will join them, Scrivner said.