Paso Robles won't fight California's 'sanctuary state' law

Paso Robles will not take a stand against California's "sanctuary state" law, the City Council decided unanimously after hearing many impassioned residents' views on immigration.

City Council members discussed Senate Bill 54 — also known as the California Values Act — at a Tuesday night meeting that drew hundreds of residents.

SB 54, which was approved last year, builds on state policies that prohibit local police departments and sheriff's offices from enforcing federal immigration statues.

Attendees filled all the seats in the council chambers, with some standing at the back and on the sides of the room. A group even flowed out of the room and into the lobby, where an additional speaker was set up to accommodate the crowd.

Leslie Moss holds up a sign supporting Paso Robles' immigrant community and Cmdr. Ty Lewis, the city's incoming police chief. Moss joined other residents at a City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, where officials discussed California's "sanctuary state" law. Lindsey Holden lholden@thetribunenews.com

This meeting continued a discussion that began on April 17, when dozens of residents urged the council to join a group of Southern California cities and counties fighting SB 54.

Many speakers at that meeting said Paso Robles is "under attack" and facing an "illegal alien invasion."

The crowd gathered on Tuesday night contained more of a balance of opinions, with many attendees speaking in favor of SB 54, as well as against it. More than 70 attendees spoke for about three and a half hours.

Supporters turn out in force

Unlike the meeting two weeks ago, many speakers Tuesday came out to show their support for the "sanctuary state" law. Some said they were surprised at the tone of the previous meeting, while others discussed discrimination and fear they've faced in Paso Robles.

"I can say I never thought in Paso Robles you'd hear people say, 'Gosh, I wish we could be like Orange County,'" said Matt McClish.

McClish said opposing SB 54 would make some residents less likely to contact police, which would hurt public safety in Paso Robles.

A group of students from Paso Robles High School brought a banner that read "I support Bearcats with a dream."

Paso Robles High School students hold a banner that reads "I support Bearcats with a dream." The students joined other residents at a City Council meeting on Tuesday, May 1, 2018, where officials discussed California's "sanctuary state" law. Lindsey Holden lholden@thetribunenews.com

Diana Gonzalez said she's a student protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. She said it hurts when people refer to her family as "invaders."

"Immigrants are people, too, and they have hearts," she said.

Fatima Cervantes said she lives with the fear that she'll have to choose which parent to live with if her mother gets deported.

"You shouldn't be scared to go to the grocery store," Cervantes said. "You shouldn't be scared to do the simplest things as walking your dog and being scared that you're going to get deported."

Patty Hernandez said she was shocked to read the words "illegal alien invasion" in an article about the last meeting.

"What do these aliens look like?" she asked tearfully. "Like me? Like my family?"

Residents against SB 54

On the other side, those against the "sanctuary state" law said it protects criminals running amok in their community.

"What we are talking about is violent criminal illegal aliens," said Gary Brown.

Tom Flynn Jr. said illegal immigration is negatively impacting Paso Robles in the form of crime, school overcrowding and social service overuse.

"SB 54 is a pathetic legislative bill crafted to protect illegal aliens while spitting in the faces of law-abiding, tax-paying, legal citizens of this great nation," he said.

Jeff Horton expressed concerns about undocumented immigrants taking jobs from other young people: "All of our kids are dreamers. Every one of our kids are dreamers."

"I understand the people that came here and got educated and became doctors and nurses," Horton said. "Why can't they become doctors and nurses in their own country?"

In an interview with The Tribune on Monday, Cmdr. Ty Lewis, who will become the city's new police chief in July, said that while the law does prohibit some communication that could be helpful, overall, SB 54 has not kept Paso Robles police from doing their jobs and protecting the community.

"We're not immigration officers," he said. "We don't enforce immigration law, and we don't enforce the law based on someone's national origin or any other of those protected classes."

Council votes against taking a stand

Ultimately, council members said SB 54 is flawed. But they said correcting those flaws should be a job for the state, not the city.

The council voted 5-0 to take no action on SB 54, aside from sending a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown and state representatives pointing out the flaws and asking for revisions.

"The reality is, this is Paso Robles," Councilman Steve Gregory said. "We're not here to fight the Supreme Court."

Mayor Steve Martin said he doesn't want to send the message that certain laws shouldn't be followed.

"There's a process to doing things," he said. "If we don't follow that process, we lose something in this country."

Lindsey Holden: 805-781-7939, @lindseymholden
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