Paso faces an 'illegal alien invasion,' must fight 'sanctuary state' law, residents say

Paso Robles could become the first city in San Luis Obispo County to take a stand against California's "sanctuary state" law after residents lobbied the City Council to act, saying they're "under attack" and facing an "illegal alien invasion."

City Council members began considering whether to oppose Senate Bill 54, which became state law in October, at Tuesday night's meeting. More than a dozen residents addressed the council, many of them urging leaders to fight the law that prevents local law enforcement agencies from participating in U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts.

Prior to the public comment period, Mayor Steve Martin said the council would wait to make a decision until the next meeting, after an attendee accused the city of violating the Brown Act because he could not find the text of the staff report before the meeting. They mayor then decided to continue the discussion.

Council members kept their comments on the issue to a minimum, although Councilman Fred Strong said he'd like to see an option to request an ICE facility for Paso Robles added to the staff report for the next meeting.

"Disrespectful to the rule of law"

Many speakers said they believe the law prevents Paso Robles law enforcement from protecting citizens.

"We live in a beautiful town, a beautiful place, and we want to keep it that way," said Linda Becker, a Paso Robles resident. "Sanctuary cities are disrespectful to the rule of law."

A few speakers emphasized their statements weren't racially motivated and said they're concerned only about undocumented immigrants who've committed crimes, not the group as a whole.

"The question is, is Paso Robles safer since the passage of SB 54?" asked Sheila Healey, another resident. "I don't think it is."

Ann Caballo was the only speaker who didn't want to see the city take a stand against SB 54.

She said her husband recently became a citizen and she's concerned law enforcement officials would start targeting individuals based on their skin color.

"If someone's brown, are they going to be required to show their papers?" she asked.

The move by Paso Robles officials stands in contrast to action taken by the city of San Luis Obispo last year.

In April 2017, before SB 54 took effect, San Luis Obispo became a "welcoming city," with officials declaring they wouldn't use city resources to help enforce federal immigration laws.

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What does SB 54 do?

The California law passed in October strengthened an already-existing 2013 state statute that prevents local law enforcement agencies from participating in U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts.

It prohibits agencies from asking about anyone's immigration status or detaining suspects for ICE. It also proposes areas where immigration enforcement would be limited, including courthouses, public schools and libraries, and health care facilities with state or local government ties.

Even so, police and sheriffs can cooperate with immigration enforcement when dealing with suspects who've already been convicted of violent crimes.

And local law enforcement agencies can use their discretion when an individual "is arrested and taken before a magistrate on a charge involving a serious or violent felony," according to the text of SB 54.

Immigration advocates say the law protects communities that may be less likely to cooperate with law enforcement due to deportation concerns.

Those who oppose it say it hamstrings local police and sheriffs and protects criminals.

Local immigration enforcement

Even before Gov. Jerry Brown signed the "sanctuary state" law, San Luis Obispo County law enforcement agencies mostly steered clear of taking part in ICE efforts.

Cmdr. Ty Lewis, who will soon become Paso Robles' next police chief, told The Tribune in February 2017 that the Police Department doesn't have any plans take on illegal immigration enforcement.

Lewis cited the need to build trust with the city's Hispanic community and said the department is sensitive to those residents' needs.

“We’re not immigration officers,” he said. “We’re not trained in immigration enforcement.”

'Sanctuary state' opposition

Opposition to the "sanctuary state" law has been fueled in part by President Donald Trump, whose administration in March announced plans to sue California over its immigration enforcement policies.

A group of Southern California cities and counties have followed suit and expressed their opposition to SB 54. Huntington Beach's city government plans to sue the state over the policy, while Los Alamitos officials voted to opt out of the law.

Orange County's Board of Supervisors voted in March to join the Trump administration's lawsuit. On Tuesday, San Diego County's Board of Supervisors also opted to take part in the same lawsuit.

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden