Soon after President Trump took office, Los Angeles immigration groups demanded that City Hall label L.A. a safe haven for immigrants in the face of his promised crackdown.

The Los Angeles City Council ultimately passed a resolution that declared L.A. a “city of sanctuary” — a symbolic gesture that offered no legal protections.

Now, Councilmembers Eunisses Hernandez, Hugo Soto-Martinez and Nithya Raman want to strengthen L.A.’s laws around immigration. They announced Tuesday they would seek passage of an ordinance declaring L.A. a “sanctuary city” and barring city personnel or resources from being used in federal immigration enforcement.

If adopted, the law would be largely similar to one in San Francisco. It prohibits city employees from using city funds or resources to assist U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in the enforcement of federal immigration laws unless such assistance is required by federal or state law.

Raman said her office worked with immigration advocates and others on the proposed law. Some of the leaders of those groups told The Times they are looking to next year’s presidential election.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a presumed Republican candidate, has made cracking down on people in the country without authorization a focus.

“We want to make sure that L.A. is ready for a worst-case scenario,” said Shiu-Ming Cheer, deputy director of programs and campaigns at the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The law sought by the three council members would codify existing policies, including a 2017 executive directive issued by then-Mayor Eric Garcetti that prohibits all city employees from using public facilities or resources to assist or cooperate with federal civil immigration enforcement.

The proposed law would also bar federal immigration authorities or other entities connected to immigration enforcement from accessing city databases or anyone’s personal data.

The proposal follows moves by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, which in 2020 voted to ban the transfer of inmates to ICE custody unless the authorities have a judicial warrant.

The council members’ motion asks the city attorney to prepare a draft ordinance within 60 days that would prohibit, to the extent permissible by law, the use of city resources, property or personnel from being utilized for any federal immigration enforcement.

Councilmember Hernandez’s office, in a news release, said the “city and internal LAPD policies still allow for ICE officers to access city jails to interrogate people in LAPD custody, and, under certain circumstances, LAPD officers are permitted to transfer individuals to ICE custody, even when judicial warrants are not issued.” The new ordinance seeks to limit those interactions.

The Los Angeles Police Department declined to answer questions about its policies.

The Times also sent multiple questions to ICE about its practices. In response, the agency said that its operations are “focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that protects the homeland through the arrest and removal of those who undermine the safety of our communities and the integrity of our immigration laws.”

Following Trump’s election and promise to deport migrants, mayors in Boston, Chicago and elsewhere reaffirmed their cities as sanctuaries, and the California Legislature passed a state law that aims to protect immigrants.

L.A.’s efforts around establishing itself as a sanctuary have come in fits and starts. The city in 2017 set aside $2 million for a legal defense fund to pay for attorneys for individuals and families who are detained or at risk for deportation.

City leaders also introduced a resolution that year to declare L.A. a “city of sanctuary,” calling it a direct response to Trump’s efforts to unwind a program that protects immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

However, it took the city two years to vote on the resolution and by then, immigrant advocates said that its declaration had lost significance.

President Biden has reversed some past immigration policies but also faced criticism for proposals that immigration groups say would mirror Trump’s tough crackdown.

At the same time, ICE’s surveillance capabilities have expanded. The agency has worked with third-party vendors to collect data from utility companies and private databases, according to findings from a two-year investigation published last year by the Georgetown Law Center on Privacy & Technology.

For example, the report found that ICE has driver’s license data for three in four adults living in the U.S. and can track the movement of vehicles in cities that are home to nearly 75% of adults.

Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, said declarations of “sanctuary city” labels are “empty rhetoric,” unless cities and counties also ensure that ICE can’t access troves of data collected by those municipalities.

The group has filed a lawsuit against a third-party vendor in a federal case in California.

“We encourage cities to analyze city data and how it’s being stored and whether it’s susceptible to warrants,” Cahn said.

Raman, in a brief interview, said she and the other council members want the city to determine what data, if any, is being shared. “The issue that [advocates are] bringing up about data is absolutely correct,” she said.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, predicted that the proposal, if passed, would strain L.A.’s education and healthcare system.

“People tend to flock to areas where they know that there isn’t cooperation with federal immigration authorities,” said Mehlman, calling the proposal “costly” for taxpayers.

The phrase “sanctuary city” dates back to the 1980s, when U.S. immigration policies allowed some Central American immigrants entry, but not others. In response, Berkeley and a few other municipalities declared themselves “sanctuary cities” to accept those migrants.

A divided L.A. City Council adopted a resolution in 1985 declaring Los Angeles a city of sanctuary for immigrants fleeing political persecution and violence, particularly refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala.

After one council member threatened a ballot measure to overturn the resolution, the council watered it down and dropped the phrase “city of sanctuary.”

Instead, the council voted to instead reaffirm a policy that banned city employees from considering a person’s “refugee or residence status” before providing city services.

Dakota Smith

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