By Victoria Kertz and Andrea Adelson | NB and LB Indy
Newport Beach City Council voted unanimously to oppose state Senate Bill 54, the so-called “sanctuary state” law on Tuesday, taking a stance similar to that of seven other cities in the county and the County of Orange in supporting a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the measure.
The same night in Laguna Beach, a less formal call to rebuke the state sanctuary laws was met with silence.
SB 54, which took affect Jan. 1, prohibits local law enforcement agencies from using resources to pursue immigration enforcement and limits when they can transfer detainees to immigration authorities.
In Newport, Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican from Costa Mesa who represents congressional District 48, spoke in opposition to SB 54 as he did last week in Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley and Aliso Viejo. The incumbent faces a pack of rivals in the midterm election for a district that spans Seal Beach to Laguna Niguel.
“This is a crisis moment. It’s not a Republican-Democrat thing. This is whether or not we stand up for the American people at a time when our country is being inundated with people who have come here illegally, and what it is doing is destroying the quality of life that we have had,” said Rohrabacher, citing a decline in schools, more crime in neighborhoods and a loss of jobs by lower-income residents.
“Low income housing, it’s being consumed by people from another country who are here illegally,” he said. “Don’t let anyone claim this is anti-immigrant; we are pro-immigrant.”
Rohrabacher said conflating the issue of legal migration and illegal immigration does “a great disservice to the legal immigrants who come here and follow the rules.”
Many members of the audience laughed, booed, and gasped.
In Laguna Beach, local resident Steve W. Dexter took up the anti SB 54 banner with its city council, arguing that “troubling” exemptions in the bill allow misdemeanor offenders to escape immigration enforcement. He informed elected officials of how many other cities in the county had taken a stance in opposition to the controversial measure.
“Can we get this item on the agenda?” Dexter asked. The question went unanswered from the dais. “Not at this time,” was Mayor Kelly Boyd’s only comment.
Among public speakers, only resident Jennifer Welsh Zeiter took up Dexter’s point, criticizing council members for acquiescing to a law she contends violates their oath of office.
In an interview afterwards, Dexter said he intends to demonstrate public support for his belief by broadening a petition campaign that so far has attracted 40 signers on Nextdoor, a social media site. His pleas to council members to put the matter on their agenda have been unsuccessful.
“I don’t care if people call me a Nazi,” said Dexter, who now plans to circulate petitions at the farmer’s market and look for supporters among the Laguna Beach Republican Club, conservative faith groups and possibly elsewhere. “We may try to get some bigger guns,” he said, declining to be more specific.
Dexter, a real estate investor, author and workshop lecturer, said he employs a housekeeper and gardener, immigrants from El Salvador and Mexico, respectively, who both obtained citizenship. What he opposes is ignoring immigration rules for those who enter the country illegally and often resort to using false documentation to remain. “It’s eroding society,” said Dexter, a self-described “law and order kind of guy.”
When he relocated from his home state of Oklahoma in 1987, Dexter felt at home in a conservative county. “It’s gotten extremely liberal,” said Dexter, citing Kevin de León, president pro tempore of the state Senate, for “flagging” the undocumented status of his family.
“I’m taking a stand in my town,” said Dexter, who ascribes to the Catholic faith. “I pray for this country every day.”
So far, sanctuary law supporters in Laguna Beach have proved even less visible than its few opponents, but they are also raising their voices.
“People in Laguna Beach assume our city council would never dream of opposing SB 54,” said resident Janine Robinson, who described her distress following the anti-immigrant thread of Dexter’s comments on Nextdoor.
In a letter Robinson sent to council members, she pointed out the town’s long history of standing against more conservative voices in the county. “We love that our city consistently has actively championed the less-privileged or under-represented–whether it’s the homeless, the lgbtq or undocumented workers,” she said, urging the council to pass a resolution affirming its support of SB 54.
Another resident, Barbara McMurray, suggested the muted response to Dexter’s proposal reflects a lack of awareness. “I would wager that most would awaken quickly and object vociferously if our city government adopted an anti-immigration position. It would be out of character for our city. That’s not who we are, and it’s exactly why most of us live here,” she said.
McMurray pointed out that Laguna takes pride in its own identity and has previously stood fast against anti-immigration fervor, citing protests such as last August’s on Main Beach and rebuffing objections about a day-labor site by the Minuteman group in 2006.
“We will get through this, too, but those of us who revere the idea of being open-hearted and helpful to our neighbors need to be vigilant,” she said.